Japan will delay any decisions on whether to join negotiations toward a U.S.-led trans-Pacific free trade agreement under new economic policy guidelines the government adopted Tuesday.
The economic policy guidelines were approved at a cabinet meeting after the government reviewed its policy priorities in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the northeastern part of the country on March 11.
Before the twin natural disasters, which also triggered the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, Prime Minister Naoto Kan had pledged to the international community that Japan would make a decision around June on whether to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
But in the new guidelines, the government said it will only “comprehensively consider when to make a decision” on whether to enter negotiations on the TPP.
The TPP is a regional free trade initiative currently being negotiated among the U.S. and eight other Asia-Pacific countries — Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The TPP is intended to require member economies to scrap all import tariffs in principle. The nine Asia-Pacific countries are accelerating the TPP negotiations in hopes of reaching a broad agreement around November.
The Japanese government face strong opposition to joining the TPP, especially from the farm sector, which is likely to be hit hard by an influx of cheaper agricultural imports due to the tariff-cutting pact.
Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano said at a press conference after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting that Kan remains committed to joining the TPP and that the Japanese government must make a decision to do so by November.