By Howard Dicus
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Yoshihiko Noda, the prime minister of Japan, has been expected to announce this week that Japan will join a round of trade talks called TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but it's no longer absolutely certain.
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported in Wednesday's editions that Noda will announce Japan is joining the TPP talks before flying to Honolulu for the APEC summit. The newspaper did not name its sources. The Japanese delegation is due Friday.
But opposition within Japan is very strong.
Japanese farmers filled a sumo stadium this week to make it clear they want no part of TPP, which could heighten pressure to finally end the 800 percent tariff on imported rice that is the single most infamous trade protectionism in the global economy.
Noda's ruling coalition has been riven by concerns about cherished Japanese trade protectionism, especially in agriculture, though farming now accounts for only 1 percent of Japan's GDP and 4 percent of employment.
Countries that join TPP are effectively committing to work toward a world without trade tariffs. Japan would have farther to travel down that road than most countries.
Only 16 percent of Japanese trade is free of tariffs, compared to 36 percent for South Korea and about 70 percent for Singapore.
President Obama now faces TPP concerns at home as well.
Democrat Max Baucus and Charles Grassley, the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, both signed a letter Tuesday asking Trade Representative Ron Kirk to consult Congress "well in advance" of any decisions about asking Japan to join TPP.
The senators questioned "whether Japan is willing and able to meet the high standard commitments inherent in U.S. free trade agreements and whether inclusion would truly open this historically closed market."
Baucus and Grassley represent farm states, Montana and Iowa.