Japan lawmakers warn US on trade pact

WASHINGTON, January 12, 2012 (AFP) - Lawmakers from Japan's ruling party on Wednesday told the United States they would fight against a proposed Pacific free trade pact and warned that the deal was triggering anti-US sentiment.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced in November that Japan would enter preliminary talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major boost for the deal that President Barack Obama hopes will further tie the United States to Asia.

But Japanese public opinion is divided on the trade deal and six members of Noda's own Democratic Party of Japan spent three days in Washington to offer a counter-point to their prime minister's enthusiasm for the pact.

"I explained that even if the Japanese government proceeded with these negotiations, the parliament would not ratify it," Masahiko Yamada, who served as agriculture minister last year, told a news conference.

Yamada said he told a State Department official that a growing number of Japanese opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and "have the idea that it is being imposed by the United States."

"I said that I'm fearful that this would give rise to anti-American sentiment and asked for the State Department to proceed very cautiously," Yamada said.

Nine nations -- Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam -- are involved in negotiations on the trade pact and reported progress when they met on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in November in Hawaii.

Japan, Canada and Mexico all announced in November that they wanted to enter talks, leaving China -- Asia's largest economy -- as the conspicuous outlier.

Obama has billed the agreement as a 21st-century deal that ensures labor and environmental standards and has set a goal of doubling US exports to jumpstart the sluggish US economy.

Japanese supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership say that Japan needs to be part of the shaping of the region's order amid the rise of China and stiff competition from South Korea, which has its own trade pact with Washington.

But an agricultural cooperative staunchly opposes the agreement, fearing it would devastate rice farmers who enjoy government protection. 

Yamada said US officials insisted to him that all sectors needed to be on the table in talks.

Opponents of the trade pact in Japan and elsewhere charge that it would benefit corporations rather than ordinary people and have voiced fears that pharmaceutical companies could force up subsidized prices for medicine.