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UPDATE1: Abe says to make decision on entry to TPP talks soon.

TOKYO, Feb. 26 Kyodo


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday he will make a decision on Japan's entry into the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade liberalization talks soon.

Abe also instructed other ministers to come up with concrete steps to strengthen the competitiveness of Japan's agriculture, forestry, fishing and industrial sectors.

The steps, including measures to attract younger people to farming, are set to be included in the government's growth strategy to be compiled by June, officials said.

The agricultural sector, in particular, would become more vulnerable to cheaper imports if Japan eventually joins the Pacific free trade accord, though Abe did not refer to steps specifically aimed at helping the sector against foreign competition in the event of a TPP agreement.

Abe told Yoshimasa Hayashi, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, at the economic revitalization headquarters panel, "to bring into shape bold measures that go beyond the traditional mindset" in collaboration with other ministers.

Regarding Japan's entry into the multilateral trade talks, Abe said at the panel, "I will make an early judgment on the best path to serve Japan's national interests based on the outcome of the Japan-U.S. summit."

Abe was referring to his agreement with U.S. President Barack Obama during their meeting Friday in Washington that joining the free trade talks will not require a commitment to removing all tariffs.

The agreement is seen as a step toward Japan's entry into the talks as Abe has said the country will not join them as long as they are premised on the elimination of all tariffs without exception, adhering to his ruling Liberal Democratic Party's election pledge.

But many LDP lawmakers, for whom domestic farmers form their traditional support base, take a cautious attitude over Japan's entry into the free trade talks.

A group of around 150 LDP members, who are opposed to Japan joining the talks, voiced complaint at a meeting Tuesday about the party executives' decision the previous day to let Abe make the final decision on Japan's entry into the talks.

One of the members criticized that the decision was made "without hearing the opinions within the party."

Hidehisa Otsuji, an LDP upper house member, called for a resolution against the executives' decision, but Hiroshi Moriyama, who leads the group, was more cautious.

"The public will criticize us if they see that the government is at odds with the ruling party ahead of the upper house election," Moriyama said. The election of the House of Councillors, in which the LDP-led group lacks a majority, is slated in July.

Meanwhile, another LDP group co-headed by former Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi that supports Japan's participation in the trade talks, held a study session on the TPP.

"Foreign policy is only decided by the government," Kawaguchi told reporters after the session. "National interests cannot be protected unless we start the negotiations soon."

The largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan decided to urge the government in parliament to clarify Abe's agreement with Obama, released in the form of a joint statement.

Former Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, who heads the DPJ's economic policy project team, said the agreement raises "concerns" about Japan coming under pressure in areas of cars and insurance. Washington is keen on prompting Japan to open its markets in the two areas.

The joint statement said, "...more work remains to be done, including addressing outstanding concerns with respect to the automotive and insurance sectors."

In relation to the issue, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura vowed efforts to protect the country's universal health insurance coverage even if Japan were to join the TPP negotiations.

A total of 11 countries, including Australia, Chile and Singapore, are already involved in the talks. To join them, a new entrant needs to obtain the approval of all participating countries.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 4, 2013
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