Japan to Announce Decision on Joining Pacific Trade Pact

Posted November 10th, 2011 at 6:00 am (UTC-5)
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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda abruptly postponed a news conference Thursday at which he had been expected to announce that his government will join negotiations on a trans-Pacific free trade pact.

Japanese news reports say the prime minister planned to announce the decision to the Japanese people Thursday and personally notify U.S. President Barack Obama when the two meet in Hawaii on Saturday. But officials announced late Thursday that the Tokyo press conference has been pushed back to Friday.

Participation in the talks is highly controversial in Japan, where thousands of farmers and fishermen marched late last week to oppose membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership . Politically powerful rice farmers, who have been excluded from previous Japanese free trade deals, are adamantly opposed.

A special working group of Mr. Noda’s ruling Democratic Party noted the opposition in a report late Wednesday, and urged the government to be cautious in deciding whether to join the talks. But Mr. Noda has maintained that freer trade is vital to Japan’s economic survival.

U.S. officials hope to use this weekend’s annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Honolulu to lay out a blueprint for the trade pact, which could transform economic relations between the United States and Asia.

Nine countries are already involved and analysts say it could eventually be broadened to include all APEC members, accounting for more than half the world’s economic activity.

Current participants in the negotiations are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Negotiators have set ambitious goals for the pact, including the swift removal of all tariffs among member countries and steps to reduce non-tariff trade barriers.

For the United States, the TPP presents an opportunity to cut through an elaborate network of bilateral and trilateral regional trade agreements and become a key player in the world’s fastest growing economic region.

Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in Hawaii this week that the TPP presents the United States with its best chance of tapping into the world’s most exciting and lucrative markets.

The TPP began in 2005 as an obscure agreement among Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. In 2008, the United States announced its interest in joining the group and bringing in other major economies.