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Friday, Nov. 25, 2011

Noda seeks to appease party foes to TPP talks


By NATSUKO FUKUE and ALEX MARTIN
Staff writers

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda held a meeting Thursday with lawmakers from his Democratic Party of Japan in an effort to ease their opposition to Japan taking part in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

It was the first time Noda met with DPJ Diet members since returning from a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Honolulu earlier this month, where he informed the international community of Japan's desire to join the TPP free-trade pact talks.

The meeting was requested by former farm minister Masahiko Yamada and his allies, who fiercely oppose Japan's entry to the TPP negotiations. The group fears the TPP, which aims to eliminate tariffs on all imports in principle among its member states, will allow cheap agricultural imports to flood the domestic market and devastate the farming sector.

The debate over whether to participate in the talks over the regional free-trade initiative has divided the ruling DPJ, which was already dealing with internal rifts over key issues, including the government's plan to start hiking the consumption tax.

At the meeting Thursday, Noda promised to fight for Japan's national interests during the negotiations, and said he would inform the public of what other nations demand of Japan at the talks.

"I will protect Japan's exceptional medical system, beautiful farming and fishing villages, and its traditional culture. I will protect what needs to be protected, and win what needs to be won," he said.

The meeting , which was closed to the public, ended in less than two hours and there were no flare-ups, according to DPJ members who were in attendance.

"I'm satisfied that (Noda) clearly said no decision has been made yet on whether Japan will actually participate in the TPP pact," said Hiroshi Kawauchi, a strong TPP opponent.

Although the meeting ended without any major disputes, Noda still has his work cut out to reunify the DPJ to make progress on government bills during the extraordinary Diet session that ends Dec. 9.

Before leaving for the APEC summit in Honolulu, Noda postponed an announcement on Japan's TPP stance for a day amid fierce resistance from DPJ members. He then said Japan will "join negotiations with member states toward participating in the TPP."



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