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Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011

DPJ bares internal rifts as it mulls joining TPP talks


Staff writer

Supporters and opponents of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks were locked in a head-on collision Friday as the Democratic Party of Japan kicked off internal discussions on whether to participate in the negotiations.

While Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda aims to make a decision by the time of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in November, strong opposition within his own party casts a shadow over the outlook of when or even whether the country will join the talks and the future of the farm sector.

In a DPJ meeting, ex-trade minister Yoshio Hachiro, who heads the party's project team on economic cooperation, said that on the whole participating in the TPP would be better than not joining.

"I think that there are more positive aspects in Japan taking a leadership role in the Asia-Pacific region and participate in setting the rules" for the pact, Hachiro said. "There are various discussions domestically as well as within the party, but I think that we all agree to actively engage in talks."

But foes of the regional trade agreement expressed anger over the way the DPJ and the government are trying to reach a conclusion by the November APEC summit and over the lineup of the group's executive members, saying most of them are pro-TPP.

"We believe that about half of the DPJ is (against the TPP) and the executive lineup is not fair," former farm minister Masahiko Yamada said. "We can't proceed with the discussions like this."

Koki Kobayashi, another opponent, stated angrily that the meeting should be completely open to the media to show the public what kind of discussions are being held on the issue, charging that recent media reports on the TPP are biased.

Journalists had to leave before the question-and-answer session between the DPJ lawmakers.

"Who is going to stand up and put a stop to (the view) that Japan is doing nothing to protest while other countries set their strategies against us (through the TPP)? That is the job of the DPJ," Kobayashi said.

Meanwhile, former Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii expressed concern that taking an isolationist path would lead to nationalism and protectionism.

"Politically, the walls between countries would grow higher and there would be more narrow-minded nationalists and economically they would create a trend toward protectionism," Fujii said.

Nine Asia-Pacific countries, including the U.S., Australia and Vietnam, have joined the negotiations on the regional free-trade initiative. While supporters of the TPP are eager to join in to make sure Japan is part of the rule-making process, there is strong domestic opposition, especially from the farm sector, as the initiative seeks to eliminate all tariffs among member states in 10 years without exception, including on rice.DPJ mulls TPP



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