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Friday, Nov. 11, 2011

Joining free-trade talks could split ruling party

Noda postpones decision on TPP


Staff writer

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Thursday postponed his widely expected announcement that Japan will join the U.S. and other countries in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying he wanted to sleep on the issue for a day before making his final decision.

News photo
Budget passes: Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda bows after the Lower House Budget Committee cleared the third extra budget Thursday. KYODO

At a meeting between the government and Democratic Party of Japan executives in the afternoon, Noda said he "wanted to gravely consider (the opinions of DPJ lawmakers who oppose joining the free-trade talks), and thoroughly consider what everyone had discussed," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said.

Noda has been careful not to create any waves since becoming prime minister in September, but making a political decision to join the TPP talks is likely to trigger harsh anger from opponents of the free-trade framework in the DPJ and could split the party.

The prime minister's announcement to the public was expected to be postponed until Friday. He will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit this weekend in Hawaii, where he is expected to declare Japan's decision.

A group of nonpartisan lawmakers succeeded in collecting signatures from 232 Diet members to submit a motion in the Lower House to stop Noda from making the announcement at the APEC summit.

But the group's bid, supported by lawmakers from the DPJ-Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) ruling bloc and most of the opposition parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, was voted down by the DPJ-dominated Lower House Steering Committee.

DPJ lawmakers spent several weeks clashing over the TPP, aiming to draft a unified proposal to submit to the prime minister. Discussions concluded late Wednesday and the final proposal turned out to lack any teeth and tried instead to make sure that both sides were satisfied.

The proposal urges the government to "provide sufficient information" to the public and states that there were many voices opposed to Japan announcing a decision to join the TPP talks at the APEC forum.

"We propose that the government make the decision cautiously, based fully on what we have mentioned above," the proposal says.

Public opinion is divided, with the business community supporting the TPP out of the belief it would boost exports, while the farm sector has remained firmly against the agreement. Concern has spread to other fields, including the medical industry, out of fear the framework will cover liberalization of trade and services and setting rules on investments.

Earlier in the day, Fujimura pointed out that while there are merits to Japan's participation in the negotiations, including being able to set trade and investment rules with the nine other countries, he recognized there is concern over various aspects of the multilateral agreement, including those affecting the farm sector.

"If our country participates in the talks, we would be able to maintain and expand national interests by having our position reflected in the rule-making process as much as possible," Fujimura said. "But on the other hand . . . there are various areas of concern and they have not necessarily been resolved yet."



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