• Kyodo

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Japan will eventually have to eliminate the tariffs it imposes on imported farm products despite its intention to keep them as an exception in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations it plans to join later this month, Malaysia’s trade minister has indicated.

International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed said Tuesday in Tokyo: “We need to know how long that (agriculture) sector needs to be protected. I think there’s got to be some transitional arrangement” to ease the impact of the trade liberalization.

The central government estimates that Japan’s agricultural output will drop by ¥3 trillion from the current total of about ¥7.1 trillion if the tariffs are eliminated under the TPP and no compensation measures are taken.

Mustapa acknowledged Japan’s intention to protect rice and other sensitive farm products, saying every TPP country has domestic industries that need to be protected.

“We have our sensitive sector and Japan, of course, has that as well, so, by coming to the table at least we can discuss” and see if both sides can make a compromise, he said.

Japan on July 23 will become the 12th member of the trade liberalization talks, during the 18th round to be held in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, from July 15 to 25.

Mustapa said Japan may face difficulty in negotiating its interests when it joins the talks, as “whoever comes later, they’ve got to accept whatever has been agreed on.”

The existing TPP members — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam — are aiming to reach a broad agreement in October and conclude a deal by the end of the year.

While Japan’s upcoming participation has raised concern that it could slow down the talks, Mustapa said Japan has decided to join the negotiations, fully aware that what has been agreed upon in the previous rounds cannot be reopened.

He admitted negotiations are becoming more difficult as they progress, but said it is still “important to have an objective” in concluding a deal.