The nation’s largest farm lobby and consumer groups linked to the sector staged a protest rally Tuesday in Tokyo ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expected announcement that Japan will join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations.
Abe is expected to make the announcement at a press conference Thursday or Friday after his Liberal Democratic Party, many of whose members depend on the farm vote, presents its terms to his administration.
About 4,000 people took part in the rally, according to the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (JA-Zenchu), which is part of the Japan Agriculture group.
The farm lobby, which was joined by seven other groups, including consumer cooperatives linked to the highly state-protected farm and fisheries sectors, has long opposed Japan’s joining the U.S.-led trade talks on grounds that the elimination of tariffs would damage the agriculture sector with an influx of cheap imported produce.
“Anxiety and anger are spreading around us because we have not received a sufficient explanation from the government,” Akira Banzai, head of the union, said in his opening address, calling the TPP “a drastic agreement that will change the way the nation deals with food.”
The union has been arguing against points in a Japan-U.S. joint statement issued in February after Abe met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.
The points at issue referred to Tokyo and Washington confirming that “all goods would be subject to negotiation” and that “the final outcome will be determined during the negotiations.”
The union’s position is that if Abe’s government soon signals its participation in the negotiations, this would renege on the LDP’s campaign pledge for the December election.
The LDP had pledged to oppose joining the negotiations if abolishing tariffs without exception was to be a precondition.
While the farm and other groups step up their calls against the TPP talks, executives of an LDP panel met Tuesday and agreed to present their terms, which include measures to protect domestic farm products, when they hold a plenary session Wednesday evening.
The LDP, whose members are split over joining the TPP talks, is expected to leave the final decision up Abe.
The nation’s major industries have advocated joining the TPP talks at an early stage to ensure Japanese businesses can hold onto their competitive edge and to ensure that consumers, most of whom are urban, can benefit from the huge free-trade deal.