TOKYO, March 15, 2013 – Citing the promise of future economic growth, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced today that Japan intends to join other nations participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade liberalization talks. The talks include the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Abe told a press conference that “every effort will be made to minimize (the) adverse impact” on sensitive areas, but that “we expect a positive effect on our economy as a whole. To watch his press conference, translated in English, click:

Many farmers and members of Abe’s own Liberal Democratic Party oppose joining the TPP talks and are pushing for exemptions to continue their long-held protections on rice, sugar, wheat, beef, pork, and dairy products. Earlier this week, farmers rallied in Tokyo to protest against the government's possible decision to join in the TPP talks.

Word of the announcement also triggered intense debate within the U.S. Congress. Dozens of lawmakers, including Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., signed a letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday, expressing concerns about Japan’s protectionism regarding the auto industry.

“As the Japanese government considers the question of whether, and under what terms to seek entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, we too must consider our own workers and businesses,” the lawmakers noted in the letter which was still gaining signers on Thursday afternoon.

“Japan’s significant, long-standing and persistent economic barriers put in place to block our exports and support theirs have hurt American workers and businesses for decades,” wrote members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. “Nowhere is the closed nature of Japan’s markets more evident than in the auto sector, where Japanese policies and practices have been carefully honed – over generations – to keep out American and other foreign cars and parts.”

However, some agricultural groups, including the National Pork Producers Council, welcomed Japan’s commitment to join the TPP talks. 

“The addition of Japan to the negotiations will exponentially increase the importance of the TPP to pork producers and to other sectors of the U.S. economy,” said NPPC President Randy Spronk, a pork producer from Edgerton, Minn. “Japan’s entry into the negotiations will spur interest in the TPP among other countries in Asia and Latin America, and it will signal to other nations that efforts to negotiate more open and transparent trading arrangements will continue, even as multilateral efforts to do so are stymied.”

Japan’s economy is second only to China’s in the region, and it is the fourth largest U.S. agricultural export market overall, NPPC pointed out. U.S. food and agricultural exports to Japan in 2012 totaled $13.5 billion. Japan is the top value export market for U.S. pork accounting for almost $2 billion in 2012 sales.

“We call on the United States and the other TPP countries to quickly welcome Japan into the TPP. We look forward to working closely with the Obama administration and Congress to fashion an agreement that pork producers can strongly endorse,” Spronk said.

Japan already has free trade agreements with seven of the 11 TPP countries: Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, NPPC noted.



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