TPP talks welcomed by business lobbies, opposed by farmers
(Japan Economic Newswire Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) TOKYO, March 15 -- (Kyodo) _ (EDS: COMPILING STORIES HEADLINED "FARM LOBBY HEAD CRITICIZES JAPAN'S INTENT TO JOIN TPP TALKS" AND "BUSINESS LOBBIES WELCOME JAPAN'S PARTICIPATION IN TPP TALKS," ADDING MORE INFO)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement Friday that Japan intends to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations was welcomed by major business lobbies while farmers and medical groups remained opposed to the move.
"The swift decision to join the TPP negotiations is the fruit of the premier's strong leadership and negotiating power, and we evaluate it highly," said Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, which represents Japanese automakers, electronics manufacturers and the nation's other largest companies.
Yonekura also said in a statement he hopes the government will be actively involved in the rule-making process in order to safeguard national interests.
As the TPP is expected to bring about deregulation and open new markets for exporters, many industry leaders have been supportive of Japan's participation in the TPP framework.
Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporative Executives, also praised Abe's decision, saying in a statement that the TPP framework is "crucial for Japan to achieve sustainable growth together with the world."
Nobuaki Koga, who heads the Japanese Trade Union Confederation or Rengo, the nation's biggest labor group, said at a press conference a "comprehensive economic accord should be pursued," but noted the need for policy measures to support fields expected to suffer heavy blows.
However the head of the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, Akira Banzai, criticized Abe in a statement that said it is "completely unacceptable the prime minister has gone ahead with the announcement too hastily" while public concerns remain.
The farm body has long opposed Japan's joining the U.S.-led trade talks, saying the elimination of tariffs would damage the country's farming sector by opening the flood gates to cheap food imports once trade is liberalized.
"With nationwide farmers, I protest with strong anger," said the head of the powerful agricultural lobby, while urging the government to "promise the public it will withdraw from negotiations once it determines national interests cannot be protected."
Many Japanese farmers voiced opposition to the announcement.
Shoichiro Takahashi, whose rice paddy in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was submerged by the 2011 tsunami that struck northeastern Japan, said reconstruction of the affected areas should come first before Japan decides to join such talks.
"Looking from the viewpoint of disaster-hit areas, reconstruction still has a long way to go," the 44-year-old said. "We haven't regained our strength to compete with (farmers) abroad."
The Japan Medical Association, which has been concerned about possible damage the TPP may cause to Japan's health insurance system, released a statement saying Japan "should have the option to swiftly withdraw from the negotiations in the event it decides it would be against Japan's national interest."
Opposition parties also criticized Abe's announcement, with Democratic Party of Japan chief Banri Kaieda saying the move contradicts the opposition to the TPP voiced by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party during last December's general election.
"It is disloyal with regard to the lower house election pledges," said Kaieda, who supports the idea of pursuing a high-level economic tie-up.
(c) 2013 Kyodo News International, Inc.
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