Japan to join Pacific trade pact talks

Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is to announce the country will join negotiations on a trans-Pacific trade agreement despite strong opposition from farmers, a report said Sunday.

Noda will make the announcement on Thursday, days before an Asia-Pacific summit in Hawaii where he hopes to join in US-led talks towards forming a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade framework, the Yomiuri daily reported.

So far the pact negotiations involve the US, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, and Japan would be the second-largest economy in the future TPP if it joined.

But Japan’s Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives has campaigned vigorously against participation, saying a deal would reduce food security in a country where farmers — especially of rice — enjoy generous government protection, at the cost of high prices for consumers.

Even Noda’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is deeply divided over the issue, with some senior members including former farm minister Masahiko Yamada openly against joining the trade agreement.

An opinion poll by Kyodo News agency released on Sunday showed that the Japanese public is sharply divided over the TPP, with 38.7% supporting Tokyo’s participation in the trade negotiations while 36.1% are opposed.

Noda has said that he will nonetheless have to make a “political decision” at some point.

The countries involved hope to announce a framework for a deal at a two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit starting Saturday.

“We have to reach a party consensus somehow before Prime Minister Noda leaves for the APEC summit,” the ruling party’s parliamentary affairs chief Hirofumi Hirano said during a Sunday debate show on public broadcaster NHK.

The Kyodo poll also showed the support rate for Noda’s cabinet had fallen to 47.1%, down 7.5 percentage points from last month. — AFP

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