Japan-Mexico summit eyed in April

Abe expected to use meeting with Pena Nieto to kick off quest for permission to join TPP talks


Japan and Mexico are arranging to hold a summit for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Enrique Pena Nieto in Tokyo on April 8, when Japan will kick off its diplomatic campaign to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, government sources said.

Abe is expected to tell the president that Japan is ready to join the free-trade talks, which Mexico entered last year, and call for his cooperation. Japan must receive approval from all of the other TPP member states to participate in the talks.

During the meeting, Abe plans to express Japan’s intention to secure exceptions to tariff elimination on such grains as rice and barley, which Tokyo describes as “sacrosanct,” according to the sources.

The summit will be Abe’s first face-to-face meeting with a leader already involved in the U.S.-led free-trade initiative since formally announcing Japan’s intent to join the talks March 15.

The summit will mark the start of Japan’s diplomatic drive to join the negotiations, which could happen as early as July if the TPP members decide to hold a meeting around that time.

As part of the campaign, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is arranging to visit Mexico and Peru, another member of the talks, during the Golden Week holidays between late April and early May.

Mexico expressed interest in joining the TPP discussions along with Canada in November 2011. Both joined last year after being approved by the nine other member countries at the time.

Mexico was reportedly told by the existing members that it would be difficult to revisit issues already settled among them. That means Japan, as a late entrant, might face similar constraints if permitted to join.

Abe hopes to confirm with Pena Nieto plans to stay in close contact during future negotiations to avoid unfair treatment, the sources said.

The two leaders may also exchange views on improving the business environment in Mexico as Japanese companies continue to enter the country. Abe is expected to explain plans to engage Latin America via greater trade ties, and Pena Nieto is expected to express hope for the promotion of Japanese investment in his country, the sources said.

It would be Pena Nieto’s first visit to Japan since taking office in December. He is scheduled to come to Tokyo after visiting China.

During his stay, the Mexican leader is also expected to meet with the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the House of Councilors.

Japan and Mexico forged a bilateral free-trade agreement in 2005.

The TPP originated as a free-trade arrangement among Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. The original four members are currently negotiating a Pacific Rim free-trade framework with seven other countries — the United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam.

Under the TPP, the number of items to be exempted from tariff elimination is likely to be limited to a few percent of the total.