Japan became the 12th member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations on Tuesday as it officially joined the ongoing free trade talks in Malaysia.
The Japanese delegation of more than 100 officials was only able to join the 18th round of negotiations in Malaysia's resort city of Kota Kinabalu after the United States concluded its domestic procedure to include Japan in the trade talks.
The 18th round of TPP negotiations is scheduled to end on Thursday when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to begin his three-day visit to Malaysia, Sinapore and the Philippines.
Negotiators from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam have convened since July 15 as they are rushing to the deadline of concluding the negotiations by October, when leaders from TPP countries, including U.S. President Barack Obama, attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Indonesia.
Hui-Yi Tseng, a Research Associate in East Asian Institute in Singapore, said the Obama administration is pushing forward the negotiations as economic policies now play an important roles in its "pivot towards Asia", partly due to the fact that America lacks enough military capacity to support the rebalancing strategy.
While Japan's participation increases the significance of TPP as the trade pact now includes the world's largest and third largest economies, it also add up to the complexity of the negotiations.
Prime Minister Abe's government is still facing domestic pressure for joining TPP despite victory in Sunday's upper house elections, as Japanese delegation will try to preserve the hefty tariff on imported agricultural products.
Meanwhile, some in the smaller countries worry that they lack the bargaining power against the unfavorable clauses.
The outspoken former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wrote earlier this month that TPP "is another attempt by America to let their huge corporations penetrate the domestic markets of the small countries, in particular government procurements."