Japan is likely to announce joining negotiations for the Pacific free trade agreement to boost the country's stagnant economy, despite fears of a negative impact on the country's farm industry from the tariff-cutting pact
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to announce his intention for Japan to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations during a press conference here on Thursday, before leaders of the Pacific Rim economies gathered in Hawaii for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on Oct.12-13.
But the issue has triggered hot debate among the public and lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Opponents urged the government to make a cautious decision regarding the country's vulnerable farm sector.
Noda stressed the need to promote high-level free trade agreements to boost its stagnant economy by taking advantage of the fast growth in the Asia-Pacific region.
He has also said he will seek to inject vitality into the agricultural sector, which currently suffers from the lack of successors, low profitability and increasing abandoned farmland.
The TPP negotiating countries are seeking to create a high- level free trade agreement that in principle will require members to cancel all tariffs. This would make it difficult for Japan to set exceptions for items such as rice and dairy products as it has done in past bilateral FTAs with other countries to protect Japan' s domestic agriculture industry.
Concerns over how the TPP would affect the country have also spread beyond the farm industry, but it has received warm welcome from the business community who regarded TPP as an opportunity to boost exports by Japan's auto and electrical machinery makers.
"The aging population of Japan's farm industry is an increasing problem. If the situation continues, there will probably be no farmers after 10 years in Japan anymore. If no reform is taken, and no attraction is added to the industry, the young people will not choose to stay in the farm sector, " Hisashi Yamada, chief economist of the Japan Research Institute, said in an interview with Xinhua.
"Actually Japan's farm products do have some competitive strength in the global market due to the high quality. The key to the success of Japan's joining of TPP therefore lies in whether the government can soon make clear strategies on reform of the farm sector," he said.
The TPP originated in a free trade undertaking among Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, and negotiations are under way to expand the framework by including five other Asia-Pacific countries, such as major agricultural exporters the United States and Australia.
The Japanese government initially hoped to decide by June on whether to join the talks, but the momentum temporarily froze because of the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which also triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.