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Three-nation FTA is high priority for Tokyo

By Bao Chang (China Daily)

08:08, March 15, 2013

More focus on Japan, China, South Korea agreement than TPP: official

Japan will give a higher priority to the establishment of a free trade area between the country, China and South Korea than discussions surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, a Japanese trade official said on Thursday.

"Compared with the TPP, the China-Japan-South Korea free trade agreement is more feasible and can be achieved earlier, because it's easier for the three countries to communicate with each other and reach consensus on crucial issues including the problem of tariffs for sensitive industries," said the official, who declined to be named.

Media reports said on Thursday that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to announce Japan's entry to the TPP on Friday, a controversial issue given the potentially damaging effects it might have on some of the country's industries, including agriculture.

The TPP is likely to place high demands on tariff reductions by major countries, and the official said that long negotiations were likely.

"So the FTA among the three countries is a high priority for Japan," the official said.

Discussions have been ongoing recently in Japan regarding the country's involvement in the FTA and TPP, involving its Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The TPP - which covers 11 nations including the United States, Australia, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore - has invited Japan to join, in a move regarded by some as a measure by the US to counter China's rising economic influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Japan will be required to lower its tariffs as a condition of membership, which will be a fierce challenge for Japanese farmers in particular, who have been protected from tariffs in the past.

The 16th round of TPP discussions ended in Singapore on Wednesday, with officials suggesting solid progress had been made, amid speculation that Japan could announce its entry into TPP talks as early as Friday.

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