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Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi instructed his Cabinet members Tuesday to maintain Japan’s opposition to early market-opening of forestry and fishery products during upcoming meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Malaysia.

The prime minister issued the instruction during a special Cabinet meeting on the APEC conference, trade chief Kaoru Yosano told a news conference the same day.

A series of APEC meetings will kick off Saturday, with leaders of the member states slated to meet for informal summit talks Nov. 17 and 18.

Forestry and fisheries products are among the nine areas in which all the member economies but Japan have agreed to proceed with further tariff cuts, in accordance with APEC’s early voluntary sectoral liberalization framework created at last year’s APEC summit in Canada. “Both Foreign Minister (Masahiko) Komura and I will stick to the government stance during the ministerial-level talks on the EVSL issue,” the trade chief said, noting that voluntarism has been, and should remain, the basic principle for trade liberalization initiated by APEC.

On the other hand, the nation’s most powerful business lobby joined the United States and other trade partners Tuesday in urging the Japanese government to liberalize all of the 15 priority areas — including forestry and fishery products — designated under APEC’s trade liberalization initiatives.

During a meeting with Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, senior members of the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) said Japan should play a strong leadership role in promoting the APEC trade liberalization initiatives, according to Foreign Ministry officials.

Komura, however, said the major agenda for the APEC meetings will be Asia’s financial crisis.

Later, Yosano appeared to hedge on his stance slightly when he suggested that Japan might yield to demands from other member states. “No one can predict how the meetings will develop. We’ll have to think about the best measures (to take), depending on how meetings develop,” he said.

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