Japan to Announce Decision on Joining Pacific Trade Pact

Posted November 10th, 2011 at 4:05 am (UTC-5)
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Japanese media say Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has decided to join negotiations on a trans-Pacific free trade pact that could eventually develop into the world's largest trading bloc.

News reports Thursday said Mr. Noda would announce his decision at a news conference later in the day, and personally deliver the message during a meeting in Hawaii Saturday with U.S. President Barack Obama.

U.S. officials hope to use this weekend's gathering of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Honolulu to lay out a blueprint for the trade pact, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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.

Participation in the talks is highly controversial in Japan, where thousands of farmers and fishermen marched to oppose membership in the TPP late last week. 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.

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 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.