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‘Sanctuary’ safe in TPP talks, Abe assures the Diet

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again pledged Thursday to fight for Japan’s trading interests, despite the prospect of having to eliminate tariffs on certain agricultural products it’s attempting to protect in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

The government is still pursuing the nation’s interests in the TPP talks, Abe told the House of Councilors. “The negotiations are now going into full swing.”

The comments suggest Tokyo will keep asking for exceptions in the negotiations, which aim in principle to eliminate all tariffs and trade barriers imposed by the 12 TPP members. But it is highly likely Japanese negotiators will face pressure to make some concessions, particularly on farm products, which Abe vowed to protect as a “sanctuary” to protect domestic farmers, who fear the TPP accord will wipe them out by triggering an influx of cheaper imports.

The TPP members, including the United States, Australia, Singapore and Mexico, said earlier this month they are on track to achieve a broad agreement by the end of the year but said more work was needed to iron out their differences.

In Tokyo, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led government has breached the idea of cutting tariffs on some of Japan’s “sacred five” farm products, drawing fire from industry bodies and lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition camps.

Some have even said the apparent policy shift may breach the LDP’s TPP campaign pledges for the Upper House election in July, in which the ruling coalition won by a landslide.

During the campaign, Abe and the LDP said they will “oppose (Japan’s) participation in TPP negotiations if the talks are premised on eliminating tariffs without sanctuaries.”

On Thursday, Abe repeatedly told the Diet that Japan will “protect what it should” in the talks, without elaborating, in response to questions from the Democratic Party of Japan.

Japan deems 586 farm products as sensitive within five “sacred” categories — rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar.