Thousands of ageing Japanese farmers took to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday, underscoring opposition in Japan to an ambitious free trade deal, as US Vice President Joe Biden called on countries to make “tough choices”.
Biden, who is in Tokyo on the first leg of a three-nation tour of northeast Asia, said negotiators had their shoulders to the wheel in an effort to thrash out the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before a self-imposed deadline of year-end.
“Our negotiators are working around the clock, full speed ahead,” Biden told the Asahi Shimbun ahead of his trip.
“All countries – including mine – are grappling with sensitive issues,” he said.
“The most important thing is that countries make the tough choices necessary to deliver a successful agreement.”
The TPP, which is expected to be up for discussion when Biden meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later in the day, groups 12 nations, including the US, Japan, Indonesia and Mexico, that together make up 40 percent of the global economy.
Washington has spearheaded negotiations, describing the TPP as creating “gold standards” for the 21st century economy by taking into account fast-changing sectors such as intellectual property.
But there is significant resistance in some participating countries, and outside observers are sceptical that such a diverse field can reach accord before the New Year.
Opposition is fierce in Japan, where cossetted industries such as agriculture and auto-making fear they have much to lose if steep barriers to participation are lowered.
Around 3,000 demonstrators, mostly farmers, rallied at a Tokyo park against the pact, which they say would deal a terminal blow to Japan’s largely geriatric farming community.
Participants wearing hairbands with the slogan: “Take a firm stand on TPP,” marched through streets near the prime minister’s office, where Biden and Abe were to hold talks.