Japan briefed by 11 countries day after its TPP debut

Japan received a briefing by other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations about the current status of the talks Wednesday, a day after becoming the 12th member.

Japan made its belated debut in the already over three-year-old negotiations on Tuesday, joining the 18th round of talks, being held in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. The round began July 15 and ends Thursday.

With TPP countries aiming to conclude a deal by the end of the year, negotiators held the "Japan session" in the afternoon and also plan to devote Thursday to brief Japanese negotiators to help Japan catch up with the talks.

The negotiations are aimed at creating a comprehensive free trade pact covering 21 different fields, including market access, which deals with tariffs eliminations Japan is keen to discuss.

"We have learned a great deal" in the past two days, said Japan's chief negotiator Koji Tsuruoka after the session.

"We have also expressed our views on a number of issues that are currently on the negotiation table," he said.

Malaysian chief negotiator J. Jayasiri, however, said "no issue was discussed" with Japan and there were "no substantive negotiation with the Japanese."

Tokyo is seeking to protect its sensitive agriculture products by retaining tariffs on imports of those products while expanding exports of its manufactured goods.

Japan missed the negotiations of the working group on market access as it ended last week before Japan formally gained the TPP membership. But the Japan session covered the key field, along with six other fields, including customs, investment and financial services.

Kazuhisa Shibuya, Japan's deputy chief domestic coordinator, indicated Japan still has time to negotiate it, saying the country got the impression after the briefing that the "full-fledged talks on market access start from now."

"It's among the topics that have not boiled down," he said, adding, "I don't think there was any part (of the talks) in which we found Japan to be in an extremely difficult position."

Japan is expected to be briefed again Thursday on the negotiations of the remaining working groups that the country could neither take part in nor receive a briefing so far.

During the second day of negotiations for Japan, Japanese negotiators attended meetings of four working groups -- on rules of origin, the environment, government procurement, and legal and institutional issues -- while Tsuruoka attended the chief negotiator session.

Japan hosted a dinner session and working group negotiations outside of the official round, expecting some 120 negotiators of other TPP members to take part.

On the sidelines of the talks, the Japanese government held a briefing session for some 40 officials of Japanese stakeholders including agriculture and business organizations. Their delegates could not take part in stakeholder meetings held last week prior to Japan's official participation in the TPP talks.

"We will provide you information that can be provided," Shibuya told the stakeholders, while also calling on them to share the information they have gathered separately from other stakeholders.

"Japan joined the negotiations just yesterday. They (government officials) are still reading texts (of past negotiations) and do not have much information to share yet," said a stakeholder delegate who attended the session.

Japan gained access to documents running to hundreds of pages after official admission to the negotiating table was secured following completion of the United States' notice to Congress to start trade talks with the country, according to Japanese officials.

The roughly 100-member Japanese delegation that arrived in the Malaysian resort were sifting through the massive amount of documents in the limited time available in order to get the most out of the round, they said.

Aside from Japan, the TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.