WASHINGTON--Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Feb. 22 that he confirmed with U.S. President Barack Obama that tariff exceptions were possible under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade arrangement.
Having received the reassurances he was looking for, Abe could make an announcement that Japan will join the TPP talks in early March at the earliest.
After the Abe-Obama meeting earlier on Feb. 22, the two governments issued a joint statement that said "it is not required to make a prior commitment to unilaterally eliminate all tariffs upon joining the TPP negotiations."
In its campaign platform for the Dec. 16 Lower House election, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party said it was opposed to participation in the TPP talks as long as the agreement presupposes the abolition of all tariffs without exception.
Abe explained to Obama the LDP’s stance and said there were sensitive trade issues between Japan and the United States, such as certain farm products in the case of Japan and certain manufactured products for the United States.
When Abe asked for confirmation that the final TPP rules would be decided through negotiations with no precondition of eliminating all tariffs, Obama said he could confirm that position.
In a news conference held after the summit, Abe said it had been made clear that there was no presupposition in the TPP talks that all tariffs would be abolished without exception.
After returning to Japan, Abe is expected to explain details of his talks with Obama at a meeting of LDP executives on Feb. 25 and to junior coalition partner New Komeito.
The prime minister will also ask that the central government be allowed to make a final decision on the TPP issue.
Referring to areas for which the United States is seeking deregulation by Japan, the joint statement said "more work remains to be done, including addressing outstanding concerns with respect to the automotive and insurance sectors."
However, Abe reiterated to Obama items from the LDP policy portfolio for the Lower House election. The Japanese leader said his nation would continue to state its case of not accepting trade quotas for manufactured products, such as automobiles, and would stick by its food safety standards.
The two leaders also agreed to strengthen the alliance to provide stability to the Asia-Pacific region and deal with such issues as China's maritime advances and North Korea's development of missiles and nuclear weapons.
"I want to declare with confidence that trust and strong ties in the Japan-U.S. alliance has been totally restored," Abe said at his news conference.
He told Obama that Japan would fulfill its responsibility alongside the United States amid the increasingly difficult national security environment in the region.
Abe explained to Obama that he was the first Japanese prime minister whose administration was considering allowing Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense. He asked the U.S. president for cooperation to improve the deterrence capabilities of the Japan-U.S. security arrangement.
The two leaders also agreed to cooperate in defense matters related to outer space and cyberspace.
After the Abe-Obama talks, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kishida expressed appreciation for the January statement by Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, that the United States was opposed to any unilateral action that would damage Japan's administrative control over the Senkaku Islands.
After recognizing that the Senkakus were covered under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, Kerry also praised Japan's restrained response to various actions being taken by China in the East China Sea.
Regarding energy issues, Abe told Obama that his administration was retracting the decision made by the previous Democratic Party of Japan government to end operations at all nuclear plants in the 2030s.
"We want to construct a responsible energy policy," Abe said.
Obama said he hoped the two nations would cooperate in promoting nuclear energy and in nuclear nonproliferation.
Abe also asked Obama to have the United States export to Japan liquefied natural gas made from shale gas. Obama indicated his administration would consider the request in light of the fact that Japan is a valuable ally.
The U.S. Energy Department is considering applications for LNG exports from 15 companies, including some from Japan.
(This article was compiled from reports by Naotaka Fujita and Ikki Yamakawa in Washington.)
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