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TPP talks on farm tariffs not likely till September

Kyodo

Japan is likely to start negotiating tariffs on rice and other farm products during the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in September or later, the government said Monday.

Japan is keen to retain high tariffs on imported rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar to protect its aging farmers from a potential influx of cheap imports under the regional free trade pact.

A senior official told a gathering of Japanese agriculture and other lobbying groups that tariff talks had not yet begun and that the TPP members weren’t ready to discuss them in the current round.

Around 20 people attended the stakeholder session on the sidelines of the 19th round of talks, which began Thursday and are scheduled to end on Friday. Japan will hold further meetings for other Japanese groups on Wednesday and Thursday, while Brunei, host of the current TPP round, will hold an official stakeholder meeting Tuesday to collect opinions from interested parties among the 12 TPP countries.

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Diet’s committees on agriculture have adopted resolutions urging the government to protect sensitive farm products and to leave the negotiating table if unable to do so.

The LDP as well as the opposition parties have sent delegations to Brunei to gather information on the latest round of talks because it is the first full round for Japan, which joined the negotiations in July.

Apart from Japan and Brunei, the countries involved in the TPP negotiations are Australia, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

The negotiations cover 21 areas, including tariffs, intellectual property rights and investor-state dispute settlement.

Negotiation sources said Malaysia and Vietnam are opposed to the introduction of an investor-state dispute settlement clause proposed by the United States and already opposed by Australia. The clause gives a multinational company the right to sue a state for compensation if it believes its investment has been harmed by a government decision.

Such suits have been filed mainly against the governments of developing and emerging economies. While Japan has included such clauses in most of its investment treaties, it has never been sued under them.

Japan is generally supportive of the ISDS clause because it could benefit Japanese companies expanding overseas, but it is also cautious about a potential increase in lawsuits that could be filed.

TPP minister Akira Amari said at a press conference following the ministerial meeting on Friday that Japan hopes to “serve as a bridge” for Asian countries and the United States in the TPP negotiations.