The administration agreed Tuesday to postpone its plan to decide by June on whether to join negotiations for a U.S.-led Pacific free-trade accord as it reviewed its policy priorities in the wake of the March 11 megaquake and tsunami.
In a policy guideline decided during a Cabinet meeting, the administration said it would “comprehensively consider when to make a decision” on whether to join the talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a regional free-trade initiative being negotiated by the U.S., , Australia and other Asia-Pacific nations.
But the administration decided to stick to its goal of outlining tax and social security reform plans by the end of June, at a time when the government is struggling to secure enough funds for reconstruction of the devastated northeast without seriously damaging its already tattered fiscal position.
The economic policy guideline says Japan needs to redesign its growth strategy in the wake of the triple disaster of the quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.
The updated version, which may be released as early as next month, could include some changes in energy policies and efforts to promote exports of infrastructure, such as nuclear power technology, according to government officials.
Before the disaster, trade liberalization and social security reform were two of the most important agenda items for Prime Minister Naoto Kan to help the country ensure recovery from its continuing economic malaise.
Despite the delay, Kaoru Yosano, economic and fiscal policy minister, told a news conference that Japan’s stance on the trade pact has to be made clear by November—when countries currently involved in the talks are aiming to strike a deal when the U.S. hosts the next Asia-Pacific economic summit in Hawaii.
The TPP seeks to scrap all tariffs among member countries in 10 years, making no exceptions for sensitive items, such as rice and dairy products in Japan’s case.
There remains strong opposition over the administration’s to be part of the trade framework, especially among farmers who are concerned about a possible influx of cheap imports.
As the hard-hit northeast, known for strong farming and fishery industries, is still suffering from the aftermath of the natural calamities, the administration is likely to find it even more difficult to win support for joining the TPP talks.
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