Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday launched a government task force to prepare for Japan’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade talks.
The task force will be led by economic revitalization minister Akira Amari and initially have 65 members, NHK reported.
Abe said Japan could not afford to miss negotiations on the TPP. “A huge economic bloc that would account for roughly a third of the world economy is about to begin.”
Supporters of the TPP say participation would give Japan’s flagging economy a boost—the government estimates by as much as 3.2 trillion yen over a decade—and increase consumer choice.
They say opening up Japan’s cosseted markets is vital if its stumbling economy is going to pick up speed, a key campaign promise from Abe.
But opponents claim it could be a body blow to the country’s aging farmers, removing the sky-high tariffs that have sheltered them and sending many to the wall, changing the face of the countryside in the process.
Japan’s rural heartland is a crucial source of support for Abe’s brand of conservative nationalism and any suggestion that farmers will lose their unparalleled protection could be politically costly for him.
Abe has promised that he will protect Japan’s farm industry and Japan’s food industry.
The TPP has been on the global agenda for years, but a succession of politically weak leaders have been unable to commit Japan to involvement.