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New trade minister Akihiro Ohata said Tuesday he hopes to move toward considering joining a planned multilateral free-trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region that is looking to include the United States.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, currently being negotiated by eight countries, is seen as a potential core framework for economic integration across the Asia-Pacific region.

Japan has been vague on whether it would join the framework.

“I would like to seek to reach an agreement in the Cabinet so that the Japanese government can make its intention clear that it will join the TPP,” Ohata told a regularly scheduled news conference.

But he acknowledged it would be difficult for Japan to participate in the group, which seeks to craft a comprehensive agreement, unless Japan “overcomes its agricultural issues.”

Economic integration has been a major topic for discussion by the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum throughout this year, and the TPP is seen as a potential core framework as a step toward the forum’s long-held goal of creating a regionwide free-trade area.

Fukuoka-Busan zone

Fukuoka KYODO The Fukuoka Municipal Government said it has proposed that the central government set up a cross-border economic zone encompassing the city and Busan, South Korea.

Fukuoka and Busan, facing each other across the Tsushima Strait, agreed in August 2009 to cooperate with each other on establishing such an economic zone.

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