Japan and the US reached an agreement on Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade negotiations, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Friday.
"Japan's national interests are protected in this agreement with the US. The real negotiation starts from now, and I hope Japan can join the formal talks as soon as possible and lead the rule-setting," Abe said.
"Joining the TPP talks will reach beyond the economy by strengthening political ties between member countries," the premier added.
The premier also pledged to protect farmers and ensure that key agricultural items will be exempted from tariff eliminations.
In the deal reached earlier in the day, the two countries agreed to closely work on TPP negotiations while recognizing sensitive areas in bilateral trade.
They also agreed that the US will gradually lower tariffs on automobiles imported from Japan and hold talks on other auto issues in parallel with the TPP negotiations.
Japan must win formal approval by all 11 participating countries to take part in the TPP negotiations.
The country is also waiting for approval from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Peru. Once all the members back Japan's participation, the US Congress will have 90 days to weigh in on the process.
The free trade pact was launched by Singapore, New Zealand, Chile and Brunei in 2006, and expanded to include seven other Asia-Pacific countries -- Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the US and Vietnam. If Japan joins, the TPP countries will account for almost 40 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and about one-third of all world trade.
According to the government, the TPP would boost Japan's GDP by 0.66 percent, or JPY 3.2 trillion (USD 32 billion) if all import tariffs are abolished with the 11 other TPP participants, offsetting possible negative impact on the agricultural sector.
Some Japanese lawmakers and farm groups have voiced opposition to joining the tariff-cutting pact due to concern that a massive flow of cheap food imports would damage Japan's heavily protected agriculture sector.
On the other hand, the business community supports government's stance on the matter, stressing the need to achieve growth of the world's third-biggest economy by increasing their exports to other countries and expanding regional trade and investment.