Japan PM Announces Nation To Join TPP Trade Talks


TOKYO--Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Friday that his country will take a seat at the negotiation table of the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, a move that may pit him against powerful farm lobbies ahead of upper house elections.

"This is our last chance to join the TPP and take part in the rule-making," Mr. Abe told reporters Friday at a press conference to mark his decision to join the talks. "For Japan to remain inward-looking means we are giving up on the possibility of growth," he said, reminding the public that the countries in the TPP pact account for one-third of the world's economy.

Mr. Abe emphasized the now-or-never timing of Japan joining the rule-making process, while still maintaining the nation is far from deciding on whether to take part in the trade circle.

Friday's announcement comes after weeks of high tension within Mr. Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, a pro-business conservative party with strong ties to farm associations that have significant influence over the key rural vote.

A number of produce sectors heavily protected by import tariffs have protested joining the TPP talks, which also include agricultural giants like Canada and Australia. With steep tariffs that effectively prevent all foreign competition, rice farmers have been particularly vocal. "The prime minister's announcement is utterly unacceptable and we with farmers of Japan protest with indignation," the powerful Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives, better known as JA, said.

Rural prefectures of Kochi and Shimane lodged complaints earlier Friday, Kyodo News reported, warning the dangers the TPP poses to their already dwindling farm population.

Mr. Abe had been setting the stage for Friday's announcement since beating the Democratic Party of Japan by a landslide in lower house elections in December, assuring voters that he would automatically be against joining the TPP if it required "prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate tariffs."

The premier's cautious wording and the fact that he made little specific mention of the sectors that would benefit from Japan joining the TPP suggest he is extremely mindful of next summer's upper house elections. While Mr. Abe's popularity has remained strong in the polls since taking office, alienating rural voters could block his party from gaining control of both houses of parliament, which would hobble the LDP's ability to carry out its mandate.

Ainsley Shea