BBC World Service

Japanese prime minister visits the U.S.

Marketplace Contributor Apr 30, 2012

David Brancaccio: The prime minister of Japan, Yoshihiko Noda, is in Washington today for meetings with President Obama. There are tensions over the U.S. military in Japan, but moves toward closer cooperation on energy and trade.

The BBC’s Roland Buerk in Tokyo says it’s about more trade but not free trade. Mr. Buerk, good morning.

Roland Buerk: Good morning.

Brancaccio: We were following the story about negotiations between the U.S. and Japan over troop deployments in Asia. There is also an economic angle here, isn’t there?

Buerk: There is an economic angle — they’re going to be talking not only about movement of 9,000 Marines from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, but also trade. I think what they would have liked to have done is that Japan would take part in the talks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a big free-trade area around the Pacific Rim.

I don’t think that’s likely to happen — or at least, not going to hear an announcement, probably. And that’s because of domestic politics here in Japan. This marketplace is very protected; particularly people like farmers. There’s massive tariffs on things like rice. Although the Japanese government would still like to do that, I think probably, not a big announcement at this meeting.

Brancaccio: Even in a world that seems to be defined by large free trading areas — like there are in Europe; like there are in parts of Asia; and certainly NAFTA.

Buerk: Yeah, the tariff on rice is more than 700 percent. But that does mean too that farmers are protected and they get to stay in their jobs. And they’re certainly very vociferous if there’s any question of those tariffs being pulled down. So it’s a long process for the Japanese government to join a free trade area, even if it thinks it’s a good idea for other industries.

Brancaccio: The BBC’s Roland Buerk in Tokyo, thank you very much.

Buerk: Thank you.

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