Motegi seeks quick U.S. approval of LNG exports

Kyodo

Trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi has requested early U.S. approval of liquefied natural gas exports in a meeting with Acting Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman in Washington, saying that securing a relatively cheap energy source is crucial to Japan.

Poneman told Motegi on Friday that he fully recognizes that LNG exports from the United States are an urgent issue for Japan and said the U.S. Energy Department will examine each project in line with federal law, the trade minister told a news conference after their talks.

“I took these as very positive remarks,” Motegi said, adding he hopes Washington will make a quick judgment given Japan’s heavy dependence on fossil fuels for thermal power generation since the March 2011 disasters.

In a speech to a think tank forum earlier in the day, Motegi emphasized the merits of the U.S. allowing LNG exports to Japan and other economies.

“The high natural gas price is the main cause Japan experienced a trade deficit for the first time in 31 years. This price in Japan is four or five times higher than in the U.S.,” Motegi said.

“If LNG can be imported from the United States, with (its) growing production of shale gas, it will make a lot of difference to Japan to be able to diversify its fuel supply sources and shrink the price gap,” he said.

Noting that energy demand is expanding rapidly throughout Asia, Motegi stressed that “a new flow of LNG supply from the U.S. to Asia would be an essential game changer that would contribute to energy security as well as to economic and geopolitical stability in (the region).”

Motegi told the news conference that he had also agreed with Poneman to strengthen cooperation in nuclear and other energy sources, with an eye to launching a forum to discuss efforts to ensure the safety of atomic energy. He also explained Tokyo’s plan to review from scratch the energy strategy drawn up by the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led government, which aimed to phase out nuclear power by 2040.

The minister also held talks Friday with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue and Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, the main advisory body on the economy to President Barack Obama.

On the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade liberalization talks, Motegi told the think tank forum, “We hope that Japan can contribute to the discussion in the round (of TPP negotiations) expected to be held in July.”

He added that while each TPP country has sensitive products or sectors, the free-trade initiative’s 11 members have agreed that all items must be put on the negotiating table.

The U.S. and the other TPP countries have agreed to let Japan join the talks on creating a massive Pacific Rim trade zone. But in view of domestic procedures the 11 nations must undertake, it is believed Tokyo will only be able to join the talks in the July round, at the earliest.