Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced he will seek to join US-led Pacific free trade talks. The trade agreement, which is to be inked by the end of the year, could involve 40 percent of the world’s economy.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that Tokyo wants to take part in talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which could develop into the biggest free trade zone in the world, dwarfing the European Union.
"Emerging countries in Asia are shifting to an open economy one after another. If Japan alone remains an inward-looking economy, there would be no chance for growth," Abe told a news conference.
“What the TPP is aiming to achieve is to make the Pacific Ocean a sea where goods, services and investment are freely exchanged.”
The decision to join the talks is the latest policy that Abe has launched since his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won the election in December.
Opening protected sectors
The pact would oblige Japan to open up protected industries including farming, long a stronghold of protectionism.
The decision to participate in the talks is raising protests from farmers opposed to opening home markets to foreign competition. While rural voters are the traditional supporters for Abe's LDP, many in Japan see the pact as a way to enact new reforms essential for reviving the stagnant economy.
Massive trade bloc
Abe, who currently holds around 70 percent approval ratings, highlighted the economic potential of the pact. “A huge economic bloc that would account for roughly a third of the world economy is about to begin,” he said.
Japan will need approval from the other 11 negotiating members before it can formally join the talks, which could take at least three months, according to a Japanese foreign ministry official.
Negotiating members include: the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. Members are expected to reach a deal by the end of 2013. But a deal could be reached as soon as the Asia-Pacific leaders summit in Bali in October.
hc/slk (Reuters, AFP)