POSTED: 07:52 a.m. HST, Nov 10, 2011
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda sought to head off a ruling party revolt over joining U.S.- led trade talks, leaving until tomorrow an announcement before he departs for an Asia-Pacific summit in Honolulu.
A majority of lawmakers in the Democratic Party of Japan oppose joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which seek to slash tariffs like Japan’s 778 percent duty on rice. Party lawmakers meeting last night released a statement calling on the government to “decide cautiously” on the issue.
Business groups that have pushed for Japan to join the TPP had prepared press briefings to be released based on the assumption that Noda would announce participation today. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters today that Noda will brief the press after cabinet ministers meet tomorrow.
“Nothing has been postponed,” DPJ lawmaker Shinji Tarutoko told reporters today in parliament.
“We’re exchanging views and we must accurately convey those opinions to the prime minister.”
Noda set a deadline of deciding whether Japan should participate in the TPP talks before leaving for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu, where he will meet President Barack Obama on Nov. 12.
Opponents including former Agricultural Minister Masahiko Yamada have signaled they might leave the party should Noda decide to join the talks. Japan’s largest agricultural lobby has said an accord would mean the “collapse of agriculture and fisheries.”
The prime minister has said Japan must open its markets to revive an economy that contracted for the last quarter of 2010 and the first half of this year and is struggling to recover from the March earthquake and nuclear crisis. Participation in the TPP would mean an annual boost of 2.7 trillion yen ($34.8 billion), according to Japan’s Cabinet Office.
Nine countries — Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, Brunei, the U.S., Australia, Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia — are pursuing the basic framework of a trade deal at the APEC summit. Obama has said he would welcome Japan’s participation.
Polls show the country divided over the accord. Thirty-four percent of respondents said Japan should join the TPP, 25 percent said it shouldn’t, and 39 percent didn’t know, according to a Mainichi newspaper poll published Nov. 7. The paper surveyed 981 voters and didn’t provide a margin of error.