Japan is likely to miss most of the next round of Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations in July as it is being arranged to start before the country becomes the 12th member of the talks, a senior Malaysian government official said Friday.
The 18th round is set to be held July 15 to 24 in Kuala Lumpur, while Japan waits for the United States to complete its 90-day notice to Congress around July 24 to officially admit it as a new member of multilateral talks for creating one of the largest free trade zones in the world.
While Tokyo has asked the existing 11 TPP members to extend the round of talks, the latest schedule revealed indicates it will be able to attend only a few days at the most.
The Malaysian official said the members could still decide to extend the period of the meeting for two or three days, but they cannot postpone the entire meeting at a time when they are aiming to reach a basic agreement in October.
Separately, Malaysia's International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed told reporters that any change to the schedule has to be agreed on by other TPP members.
"The feedback I got was there is no consensus yet on this request by Japan," Mustapa said.
Top negotiators of the countries could hold talks on whether to allow for the extension of the next round later Friday at the earliest as they have gathered for their 17th round of talks in the Peruvian capital Lima.
In Tokyo, Japan's economic revitalization minister Akira Amari told reporters the July meeting is "not formally decided yet," and indicated he hopes the upcoming round will be extended.
Saying members of the TPP negotiations have promised Japan they will make utmost efforts to realize "meaningful participation" of Japan at the meeting, Amari said he hopes the efforts will bear fruit and allow Japan to join "substantive discussions."
As Japan is unable to attend the ongoing Lima round of talks either, it is gathering information there to prepare for the next round of talks in hopes to secure national interest in key fields such as agriculture, automobiles and insurance.
Cabinet members involved in TPP issues agreed at their meeting Friday to appoint negotiators for all 21 fields on the table next month and manage information obtained from other countries to prevent leaks.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally announced the country's intent to join the TPP talks in mid-March and the existing 11 TPP members have given the green light for Japan to join on April 20. The United States notified Congress of its intent to start TPP talks with Japan four days later.
TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, Vietnam and Japan.