Will Japan die hard at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum? Maybe, maybe not.
With just one week before a series of top-level APEC powwows kick off in Kuala Lumpur, Japan is facing increasingly strong pressure from many of the 20 other APEC member economies to back down from its recalcitrant refusal to liberalize its trade in forestry and fisheries products.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Shoichi Nakagawa has described the pressure at APEC, especially from the United States, as an “unreasonable” thing that Japan can never succumb to. But his view is not shared by all government officials.
Some officials say privately that to be sure, “volunteerism” is a basic principle enshrined by APEC for promoting regional trade and investment liberalization, as Japan repeatedly insists on seeking shelter from the criticism at APEC.
But at stake is Japan’s credibility as a staunch proponent of freer trade, and even the country’s voice at the forum, the officials say. If Japan continues to refuse to budge on the issues at the upcoming Malaysia meetings, it could be blamed for putting the brakes, instead of the accelerator, on APEC’s much-vaunted vehicle for liberalizing regional — and even global — trade and investment, they add.
As the government makes final preparations for the APEC meetings in Malaysia, the politically-powerful industry lobbies have been stepping up pressure on it not to make any compromise in the forestry and fisheries sectors.
Meanwhile, a schism has surfaced and is even deepening between the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which vehemently objects to any concession, and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and the Foreign Ministry, both of which believe some compromise may be indispensable to keep Japan from being “isolated” at the forthcoming meetings.
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