Japan will join TPP dialogue, Noda decides

Diet hears last pitch on merits of free trade but discord is strong

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writer

Japan will join the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda officially announced Friday night, a day after he delayed making an declaration on the country’s stance on the free-trade initiative.

“We decided to join negotiations with member states over the TPP,” Noda said at a news conference after meeting with his Cabinet members. “Japan should tap into the growing power of the Asia-Pacific region to hand down to future generations the affluence our country has built up as a trading nation.”

Noda said he understands there are many domestic concerns over participating in the initiative, and promised he will protect Japanese agriculture.

“I will firmly protect Japan’s world-class medical system, traditional Japanese culture, and beautiful farm villages,” he said in an apparent attempt to ease the concerns of farmers, who fiercely oppose the TPP.

Farmers fear that if Japan joins the TPP, which in principle aims to eliminate all tariffs on imports, a flood of cheap agricultural products from overseas would put many of them out of business.

In addition, Noda did not deny that Japan could still decide to pull out from the negotiations before they conclude, if participating in the talks has a negative impact on the economy.

“It’s essential to make as much effort as possible to (protect) Japan’s national interests,” he said.

The issue has divided the DPJ, and tempers flared among the party’s lawmakers as they fiercely debated the merits and perils of joining the talks at meetings of the party’s TPP panel that lasted until midnight Tuesday and Wednesday.

At the news conference, Noda said he “carefully considered” Japan’s position after the TPP panel requested Wednesday that “the government decide cautiously.”

Earlier in the day, he also said at the Lower House Budget Committee that he postponed his announcement to buy a little more time to consider the issue, which could potentially split apart the DPJ. When Noda took office in September, he pledged to prioritize party unity.

“DPJ members made a request to exercise caution before reaching a conclusion (on the TPP), so I postponed my announcement to discuss the matter further,” Noda said.

Speaking at the budget committee, Noda stressed the merits of joining the free-trade pact. He said the TPP “has the potential” to allow domestic companies to tap into the rapid economic growth seen in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Noda also noted that joining the TPP talks would allow Japan to discuss the new free-trade framework with the nine countries taking part in the negotiations, and have its views included in the final outcome. This is far preferable to dealing with each nation individually to establish bilateral economic partnership agreements, the prime minister said.

Noda had been planning to officially announce Thursday that Japan would take part in the free-trade talks, but decided to postpone a decision after the DPJ’s TPP panel called on the government to “make a decision cautiously,” and a cross-party group of 232 lawmakers submitted a nonbinding resolution opposing Japan’s participation in the TPP.

Noda was set to depart Saturday morning to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Honolulu, where he is expected to convey Japan’s stance on the TPP to U.S. President Barack Obama.