AUCKLAND – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and New Zealand counterpart John Key agreed Monday to work on concluding the Trans-Pacific free trade talks as soon as possible and to improve defense cooperation as Japan sheds its pacifist stance and seeks a more active security role.
During talks in Auckland, Abe explained Japan’s decision to reinterpret the Constitution to allow its troops to defend allies under armed attack under collective self-defense, and Key expressed support for the major policy change, Abe said.
Japan and New Zealand will also study the possibility of signing an acquisition and cross-serving agreement that would enable the Self-Defense Forces and the New Zealand Defense Force to exchange supplies and services, Abe said.
“Japan and New Zealand are strategic partners that share basic values,” Abe told a joint press conference accompanied by Key. “We affirmed that we will make strenuous efforts toward concluding the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement) at an early date.”
Meeting in Canada’s Ottawa, negotiators from 12 Pacific Rim countries, including Japan and New Zealand, are trying to reach an accord on the TPP by the end of the year. The agreement would create a massive free trade area accounting for roughly 40 percent of global gross domestic product and one-third of all world trade.
“There is much work for both sides and for all parties in TPP to complete but we continue to work hard to see a comprehensive multinational agreement completed,” Key said. He said an agreement before the U.S. midterm elections would be “unlikely” but that there is “a window of opportunity after November.”
Aside from the U.S.-led TPP, Abe and Key agreed to seek further economic integration in the region under such initiatives as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a Japanese government official said.
The RCEP is a 16-nation free trade group that includes the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region but excludes the United States.
Abe is on the first leg of a weeklong three-nation tour through Saturday that will also take him to Australia and Papua New Guinea. The Oceanic region has taken on greater strategic importance to Japan, which must import nearly all its energy needs as well as other commodities, including iron ore.
Before visiting the site of the Canterbury Television building, which collapsed in the deadly 2011 Christchurch earthquake, Abe agreed with Key to join hands on disaster prevention in light of Japan’s experience with the massive offshore earthquake and subsequent tsunami that heavily damaged Tohoku the same year.
Sports is another key area for cooperation, as Tokyo and Wellington will “cooperate for the success of the Rugby World Cup 2019 and the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games” in Tokyo, according to a joint statement issued after the summit.
Abe later met with players from New Zealand’s representative rugby team, the Maori All Blacks, as he stressed the importance of youth exchanges in sports, particularly rugby, which Key described as “a bond” between the two countries.
The Japanese leader will travel to Australia later in the day to hold summit talks with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday and deliver a speech at Australia’s parliament, the first by a Japanese prime minister.