Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that Japan should play a leading role in the trans-Pacific free trade negotiations involving 12 countries toward the goal of striking a deal by the end of the year.
"Joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is a far-sighted policy. Japan should play a leading role toward the year-end deal," Abe told Cabinet members involved in Tokyo's policymaking on the matter, a day after returning from a trip to Southeast Asia to attend TPP summit talks and other meetings.
The government and Abe's Liberal Democratic Party on Friday began studying the possibility of abolishing tariffs on some items in the five sensitive sectors of rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar, with 223 items deemed to cause a smaller impact in the case of tariff elimination set to be the subject of the study.
The ruling LDP aims to compile its view on tariff elimination in mid-November. But deciding to open up the market is a challenging process in a country which has long heavily protected its agricultural sector.
The 223 items -- out of 586 items in the five sectors -- consist of 24 items in the rice sector such as rice flour-made dumplings, 32 items in the wheat sector such as flour-containing pancake mix, 47 items in the beef and pork sector including ox tongue and bacon, 31 dairy product items such as ice cream, and 89 items in the sugar sector like chewing gum.
The government and the LDP are expected to examine the impact of tariff removal on domestic industries, for instance by assessing whether tariff elimination on items which Japan imports only small amounts would lead to an influx of the products from overseas.
Akira Amari, minister in charge of TPP issues, told a press conference Friday that the government will "basically await the outcome" of the discussions taking place in the party, while vowing to work toward achieving national interests as much as possible in the multilateral negotiations.
In a statement released Tuesday after the TPP summit in Bali, Indonesia, leaders of the 12 negotiating countries hailed the "significant progress" seen in recent months, but noted that negotiators "should now proceed to resolve all outstanding issues."