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SAITAMA (Kyodo) The government on Saturday kicked off a series of forums nationwide to win public backing for expanding free trade at a time when concerns are growing over Japan’s possible participation in a Pacific free-trade pact.

Reflecting the fact that joining the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is controversial, participants attending the first forum, held in the city of Saitama, discussed the pros and cons of the pact. Complaints were also heard that the information being provided to the public about the TPP has been lacking.

The government plans to make its decision on joining the TPP negotiations around June and work out measures for the agricultural reforms needed to join the pact.

But opposition is heavy, especially in the farm sector, which fears that joining the TPP will cause an influx of cheap agricultural imports.

“An extremely important vehicle to ensure Japan’s economic growth is free-trade agreements. Japanese people should once again look overseas,” national policy minister Koichiro Genba told the forum, adding it is essential for the country to incorporate the energy of Asian countries to seek growth on its own.

He also said the TPP is the only regionwide free-trade initiative that is currently being negotiated by Asia-Pacific countries, including major agricultural exporters the United States and Australia, and noted that how Japan deals with the framework could affect the country’s future course.

While officials stressed that the debate forums are not specifically to discuss the TPP, most of the questions from the floor were linked to the matter.

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