Expanding regional trade ties also high on agenda

TPP in sharp focus as APEC ministers meet


As APEC trade ministers meet in Indonesia this week to discuss strengthening regional trade links, Japan will enter another critical phase for joining the talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which involves many members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

During the two-day meeting starting Saturday in Surabaya, the ministers of 21-member APEC, which accounts for nearly half the world’s economic output, are scheduled to discuss free-trade schemes to increase economic integration and ways to attain sustainable growth and eliminate protectionism.

But the meeting also provides a chance for ministers of the countries already involved in the U.S.-led TPP to gather in one place, and Japan is aiming to gain their backing to join the rule-making process as early as July.

Akira Amari, the minister in charge of the talks, is set to individually meet with trade officials from the four remaining countries, including Canada and New Zealand.

“I will seek their understanding toward Japan’s early entry into the talks, which will benefit the TPP as a whole,” Amari told reporters, before leaving for Indonesia Thursday, where the members will gather on the sidelines of APEC.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Japan’s desire to join the TPP talks last month, and the APEC meeting will be the first time the current TPP members have convened since then.

Joining the free-trade pact is part of Abe’s effort to revive the economy, which is being subject to an unorthodox monetary experiment to shock it out of deflation.

The APEC meeting will be a chance to press Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Peru, which have yet to give official backing to Japan.

Abe has promised to win exemptions for such farm products as rice, wheat and sugar from the TPP’s principle of eliminating all tariffs on trade between member countries.

Trade chief Toshimitsu Motegi will attend the APEC meeting but is unlikely to take part in a gathering on the sidelines of the current TPP members.

“I would like to meet individually with as many counterparts as possible and exchange opinions,” Motegi said.

During the APEC meeting, Japan will discuss the TPP and other free-trade agreements.

Among other topics it aims to raise, Japan is planning to propose a mechanism for offsetting carbon dioxide emissions by providing technology to other countries, while also calling for making legal arrangements to allow small and midsize enterprises to tap other markets more easily.

“We are seeing a lot of movements for achieving freer trade through various approaches in recent years,” a senior official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.

“While we observe protectionist moves on the other end, we hope to push back such moves,” he said, adding he hopes the “peer pressure” of 21 APEC members will help change such moves by some emerging economies.

Japan has recently been accelerating efforts to finalize FTAs with other countries, holding bilateral negotiations with the European Union, Canada and Mongolia. It is also holding trilateral FTA talks with South Korea and China.

Japan has won the backing of the United States to join the TPP talks as the two sides concluded bilateral preparatory negotiations, although the administration has to give Congress 90 days notice before starting official talks.