SURABAYA, INDONESIA – Japan got the green light Saturday to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations from the last of the 11 member nations, as Canada granted its approval at the end of bilateral talks.
Ottawa’s permission puts Japan on track to join from late July the ongoing discussions on creating a high-level trade liberalization framework among Pacific Rim countries.
“Canada has successfully concluded its consultations with Japan,” Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work together to deepen our trade and investment relationship in a manner that will generate significant benefits for hard-working people in both our countries.”
Gathering in Indonesia for a trade ministers’ meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the 11 TPP members were set to issue a statement later Saturday welcoming Japan’s participation in the free-trade discussions, a source close to the negotiations said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in mid-March declared Japan’s intention of entering the talks, seeking to tap the growth potential of Asian markets and boost the nation’s exports to revive its faltering economy. But all of the current TPP members had to first grant consent.
Australia, New Zealand and Peru gave their approval on Friday. Japan also won Canada’s backing the same day at the conclusion of working-level talks, after Ottawa had declined to give the go-ahead during a ministerial meeting with economic revitalization minister Akira Amari earlier Friday.
Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore and Vietnam all approved Japan’s entry shortly after Abe’s announcement last month, while the United States had offered its support the previous week after completing bilateral preparatory talks on key issues in the auto and insurance sectors.
Even with unilateral backing, Japan will miss the next round of TPP discussions to be held in Peru in May, as the U.S. government must give 90 days notice to Congress before starting to negotiate with Japan.
Hoping to protect its sensitive agricultural sector and have other national interests reflected in the regulatory framework being hammered out, Tokyo has been calling for a round of negotiations in July, between the talks scheduled in May and in September. Since various TPP members are calling on Malaysia to host the 18th round of talks around July 25, Tokyo is expected to get its wish.
The 11 countries engaged in the negotiations aim to conclude a basic agreement by the end of the year, leaving precious little time for Japan to exert significant influence over the final framework.