Japanese trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi called for early approval for exports of liquefied natural gas to Japan in a meeting Friday with Acting Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman, saying securing a relatively cheap energy source is crucial for Japan.
Poneman told Motegi that he fully recognizes that U.S. LNG exports are an urgent issue for Tokyo and said that the Energy Department will examine each project in line with U.S. law in a responsible manner, the trade minister told a press conference.
"I took these as very positive remarks," Motegi said, adding he hopes that Washington will make a judgment with factors in mind such as Japan's heavy dependence on fossil fuels for thermal power generation after the March 11 disaster in 2011 and the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance.
In a think tank forum in Washington earlier in the day, the minister of economy, trade and industry also emphasized the merits of allowing U.S. LNG exports to Japan and other economies.
"The high natural gas price is the main cause for Japan to experience a trade deficit for the first time in 31 years. This price in Japan is four or five times higher than in the U.S.," Motegi said.
"If LNG can be imported from the U.S., with growing production of shale gas, it will make a lot of difference to Japan to be able to diversify its fuel supply sources and shrink the price gap," he said.
Noting that energy demand is expanding rapidly throughout Asia, the Japanese minister also said, "A new flow of LNG supply from the U.S. to Asia would be an essential game changer that would contribute to energy security as well as to economic and geopolitical stability in Asia."
Motegi told the press conference that he and Poneman also agreed to strengthen cooperation in nuclear and other energy sources, with an eye to launching a forum to discuss efforts to secure the safety of atomic energy.
The minister also explained Tokyo's plan to review from scratch the energy strategy drawn up by the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led government, which aimed to phase out nuclear power completely in the 2030s.
Motegi also held talks on Friday with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue and Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
On the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, Motegi said in the think tank speech, "We hope that Japan can contribute to the discussion in the round that is expected to be held in July."
He also said that while each TPP country has its own sensitive products or sectors, all members have agreed that all items must be on the negotiation table.
The United States and 10 TPP countries have announced their approval of Japan's participation in the Pacific trade liberalization talks. Given the domestic procedures of the 11 countries, it is believed that Tokyo will be able to formally join the negotiations in the July round at the earliest.