Japan is set to make its belated debut as the 12th member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations Tuesday afternoon in Malaysia after a four-month wait since announcing its intent to join the talks on creating one of the world's largest free trade areas.
After the United States, the leading TPP economy, completes its domestic procedures to start talks with Japan in the afternoon, Japan's chief negotiator Koji Tsuruoka and his team will be welcomed into the 18th round of talks, already under way since July 15, according to Japanese officials.
With only three days left of the latest round, being held in the Malaysian resort of Kota Kinabalu, Japan will seek to fully use the time to negotiate its interests.
"We will unite as one and do our best to realize the national interest," said Tsuruoka as Japanese negotiators and lawmakers gathered in the morning.
"We aim to achieve results that will lead to revival of the Japanese economy," he added.
TPP negotiations comprise 21 working groups covering 29 chapters, including market access covering tariff elimination, which has been the key topic of interest for Japan.
While Japan seeks to eliminate trade barriers to boost exports of cars and other manufactured goods, its government has also pledged to protect its sensitive farm products, namely rice, wheat, beef, pork, dairy products and sugar, by retaining tariffs it imposes on imports.
The working group on market access, however, already finished its negotiations for this round on Friday, and Japanese negotiators can only take part in the talks of some working groups, including intellectual property and the environment.
But as the TPP members will be devoting the last day to briefing Japan on the current status of the negotiations and provide background information on accord texts, Japanese officials are hoping its negotiators can present the country's stance.
Some of the TPP members have shown understanding for Japan's intent to protect agriculture, with a Vietnamese TPP official saying member states "should cooperate to explore solutions for the sensitive sectors that member countries think should be protected."
The addition of Japan to the membership significantly raises the size of the envisioned pact. With Japan, TPP countries would account for nearly 40 percent of global gross domestic product and about one-third of all world trade, at a time when China, a non-TPP member, is increasing its global presence.
As the talks have already entered the fourth year, TPP countries are aiming to reach a basic agreement in October and conclude a deal by the end of the year. The next round is being arranged for late August in Brunei.
Despite the target date approaching, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga indicated there is still time for Japan to negotiate.
"I think it is not yet too late to pursue the best path for serving the national interest," said Suga in Tokyo.
Aside from Japan, the TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.