Talks between Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and John Key have failed to deliver any concrete signs Japan has come off the fence over joining the regional Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.
The meeting with Noda was the final official engagement on the Prime Minister's six day visit to Japan and the Apec summit in Russia.
Key said Noda was “forward-leaning” on wanting to join the TPP “under the right conditions” and had raised the issue at the meeting.
But he faces domestic opposition as well as a challenge to his leadership.
“My strong hope is that Japan will join the negotiation, as foreshadowed by Mr Noda in his announcement before the Honolulu Apec summit last year,” Key said.
Noda restated that position, but said he was still in “consultations” over whether to join TPP, which New Zealand favours because it includes the United States.
Key said the TPP had “real momentum” but New Zealand wanted it to be comprehensive.
Canada and Mexico, which have joined TPP, had agreed to that benchmark, and Japan would have to agree, too, if it wanted to join.
Japan is also being wooed by the rival Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, set up this month by the “ASEAN plus 6” nations.
It includes New Zealand, China and India but not the US.
New Zealand favours TPP, because it is further advanced and it already has a free trade deal with China and talks with India are in the pipeline.
Key said Noda had mentioned both groupings and said he was looking forward to RCEP getting off the ground. He would welcome New Zealand as part of that.
Key said he had expressed New Zealand's opposition to Japanese whaling, and Noda had restated his position.
But there was no change on the issue.
The two had also discussed the competing claims between China and Japan over contested islands in the South and East China seas.
Key has not taken sides on the islands, but has called for dialogue on the issue.
Key said Noda had asked for New Zealand to back Japan’s bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
Key said he would discuss that with Sports Minister Murray McCully but noted Tokyo had successfully held the event in 1964 where New Zealand middle distance runner Peter Snell won two gold medals.
- Fairfax Media