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Japan, chair of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) commission, the highest decision-making body of the framework, is expected to have difficulty in handling the applications of China and Taiwan to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Thursday that Japan “welcomes” Taiwan’s formal application, which came to light the previous day. But due to differences in how the CPTPP member economies view the two applications, Taiwan’s bid is believed certain to provoke a backlash from China — which filed its own application for CPTPP membership on Sept. 16 and regards the self-ruled island as a renegade province.

Motegi said that for Japan, “Taiwan is an important partner that has close economic relations” with the country.

Japan plans to support Taiwan’s request to accede to the CPTPP as it aims to boost cooperation with the economy, which has strength in the manufacture of semiconductors amid a global shortage, officials said.

That stance marks a stark contrast with Japan’s attitude toward China’s bid to join the CPTPP. After China’s application, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of the CPTPP, said, “We need to watch carefully whether (China) is ready to meet high-standard CPTPP rules.”

Among the 11 CPTPP members, Australia, mired in trade friction with China, is said to be cautious about Beijing’s bid, while Malaysia is among those willing to approve China’s entry.

An applicant must secure the agreement of all CPTPP member countries before it can begin negotiations on its potential admission to the framework.

Due to the lack of unity, a Japanese government official predicted that there will be little progress in specific talks for the time being.

The CPTPP lays down strict rules on free trade and economic activities, including reductions and removal of tariffs on agricultural, forestry, fishery products and industrial goods, as well as restrictions on preferential treatment for state-owned enterprises.

Taiwan has promoted preparations to join the CPTPP, including by establishing relevant legislation. By contrast, China has taken measures that go against the principles of the CPTPP, such as the strengthening of state-owned companies, a senior official of Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.

Whether or not Taiwan removes its ban on food imports from five Japanese prefectures may be a key factor in its bid to join the free trade agreement.

“If there is a request from the Japanese side during the negotiations, it’s legitimate for us to respond appropriately,” a senior Taiwanese government official said, showing eagerness to accelerate talks with Japan by paving the way for lifting the self-ruled island’s import restrictions. The restrictions have remained in place since the 2011 meltdown at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

On Thursday, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Twitter in Japanese: “We’re ready to accept all rules. We hope our Japanese friends will support our efforts.”

Since the start of the Tsai administration in 2016, Taipei has been trying to remove the ban on food imports from Fukushima and four other prefectures. But there is lingering prejudice in Taiwan against food from the prefectures and the issue has remained a sticking point in Taiwan-Japan ties.

The tide may be changing, however, as the United States and the European Union recently decided to remove or ease their import restrictions on agricultural, forestry and fishery goods from areas affected by the nuclear disaster.

“We want to use the method adopted by the United States as a reference,” another senior official of the Taiwanese government said, suggesting that Taiwan will aim to resume imports under the principles of ensuring people’s health while respecting scientific evidence and observing international rules.

China also maintains its ban on food imports from some prefectures. As Taiwan is desperate to be admitted to the CPTPP framework before China, it may be pressed to make resolving the import ban issue a top priority, observers said.

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