Japan underwent almost six hours of intense questioning by other countries involved in talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade accord over its refusal to open up its market for its sensitive farm products at a meeting of TPP negotiators in Singapore this week.
The Japanese position on its five sensitive farm product categories -- rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and sugar -- dominated the discussions in the market access working group meeting that took place for about three hours each on Wednesday and Thursday.
The market access group meeting is part of a five-day meeting through Friday of TPP chief negotiators and other negotiators involved in various working groups to prepare for a ministerial meeting that begins here on Saturday.
All the other TPP members bombarded Japan with questions on whether it will open up access to its market for those goods, a negotiation source said.
However, Japan's negotiator stood firm about protecting those goods, insisting the position is already enshrined in the Japanese Diet's resolution, according to the source.
The Japanese negotiator would not even consider any form of "phasing out" period that could enable the market for those goods to be opened up under a more gradual and longer time frame, the source said.
Although the Japanese position on its sensitive farm products has been a sticking point in TPP negotiations since Japan joined the 11 other countries at the negotiating table last year, the source said he believed this was the first time Japan had clearly declared its position on the five sensitive agricultural products.
Japan's position raised the concern of other TPP members that it could further delay the conclusion of the negotiation. The TPP nations already failed to reach their goal of wrapping up the talks by the end of last year.
"How can it be possible?" the source said. "The TPP is meant to be a high-quality, comprehensive deal with no exclusions," the source said.
The source said the negotiators also discussed options to enable them to bypass the stumbling block posed by Japan, so as to conclude the talks as soon as possible. However he declined to disclose what the options were at that stage.
On the other hand, Canada, which also has politically sensitive goods such as dairy and beef, said during the meeting that it was willing to have further discussions on opening up its market for its sensitive goods.
Besides Japan, other countries involved in the TPP negotiations are the United States, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Brunei, Peru, Chile, Canada, Mexico and Vietnam.