Senator to probe Japan on Asia-Pacific talks

WASHINGTON Tue Aug 21, 2012 7:10pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top senator on Tuesday said he will underscore the need for Japan to open its markets to more U.S. exports if it wants join regional free trade talks between the United States and ten other countries in the Asia Pacific.

"I'd like to see Japan participate (in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership pact), but it's largely up to Japan," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus told Reuters in a phone interview on his way to talks in Tokyo.

Baucus said he believed reaching a TPP agreement would boost jobs throughout the region, creating a powerful incentive for Japan to join the negotiations.

"I think there's quite a strong sense of inevitability (to the agreement). It's going to happen and therefore countries are likely to want to be on the train," the Montana Democrat said ahead of meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and other senior Japanese officials.

Noda expressed Japan's interest in joining the TPP negotiations late last year. Since then, his government has been in talks with the United States and other TPP participants on what it needs to do to join the pact.

U.S. officials have pressed Japan to signal its readiness to address a long list of market access barriers in areas ranging from autos to agriculture to financial services.

While Noda faces significant domestic opposition to joining the negotiations, a U.S. auto industry group released a study on Tuesday warning of U.S. auto industry job losses if Japan is allowed into the pact.

The nine current TPP countries -- the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Chile and Peru -- recently welcomed Canada and Mexico into the negotiations, highlighting the continued uncertainty over whether Japan will actually join the talks or not.

Top trade officials from the TPP countries will meet in Vladivostok, Russia in early September, although a decision on Japan's bid to join the talks is not expected then.

Any country, including Japan, that wants to join the negotiations has to "indicate a willingness to make concessions and (show) that they're going to be real players and not be foot-draggers," Baucus said.

Baucus spoke to Reuters after a visit to Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand to talk about the TPP.

He acknowledged the two countries have significant differences in the TPP negotiations over issues such as dairy products, intellectual property rights protection and investment, but expressed confidence they could be resolved.

"I'm here to help accomplish that, by asking questions and listening and learning," Baucus said.

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; editing by Andrew Hay)

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