Taiwan seeks Japan's support for joining CPTPP despite Fukushima food dispute

The country is hoping to take part in the second round of negotiations which is likely to take place later this year or early next year

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Fan Chen-kuo, deputy secretary-general of MOFA's Taiwan-Japan Relations Association (Teng Pei-ju/Taiwan News)

Fan Chen-kuo, deputy secretary-general of MOFA's Taiwan-Japan Relations Association (Teng Pei-ju/Taiwan News)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) congratulated the 11 signatory countries for concluding the negotiations of an Asia-Pacific trade pact on January 22, and said the country had expressed strong interest in taking part in the second round of negotiations to Japan, the pact's chief negotiator.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will be signed in March in Chile without the United States, which withdrew from the negotiations of the pact previously known as the TPP a year ago under the Trump administration.

Japan being the leading force of the pact, its support for Taiwan to join the CPTPP is obviously important, but whether it will use the issue to strike a bargain with Taiwan on the lifting of restrictions on imports of Fukushima foods, which Taiwan has so far resisted, remains a question.

Fan Chen-kuo (范振國), deputy secretary-general of MOFA's Taiwan-Japan Relations Association, said on Thursday "the government would not rule out the possibility even though it had not received any pressure as such from Japan for the moment."

Fan emphasized that the issue regarding the import of foods from Fukushima, the region affected by the nuclear disaster in the wake of the March 2011 tsunami, "should not be politicized and thus hinder Taiwan's trade with other countries."

Fan said from the ministry's point of view, the issue should be resolved by science and statistics and with the spirit of free trade of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Fan also said Japanese officials had more than one time backed the country's participation in the pact during the TPP era, and therefore the government looked forward to seeing further action from Japan in support of Taiwan when the negotiations entered the second round.

The second round of negotiations is likely to take place later this year or early next year after the pact is ratified.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has repeatedly expressed her government’s interest in joining the CPTPP, and last December Premier William Lai (賴清德) also asked the cabinet to start preliminary tasks that would prepare the country for the next round of negotiations, including assessing impacts on industries, mulling over new policies, adjusting existing regulations, and many others.

The ministry issued a news release on Wednesday saying the Taiwanese government congratulated the conclusion of the CPTPP negotiations and that the country would like to gain support from the 11 signatory countries for joining the pact.

According to the ministry, the trading value between the 11 signatory countries and Taiwan in 2016 accounted for one-fourth of the total value of Taiwan's global trade.

After the U.S. withdrawal, the remaining negotiators agreed to resume negotiations during the APEC summit last November and decided to rename the pact as the CPTPP.

The pact is now led by Japan, the largest economy among the signatories, and is seen as the country’s effort to counter China’s growing economic influence in the Asia-Pacific region.