Japan is test case for Pac Rim free trade zone

As Asia-Pacific leaders committed themselves to achieving a Pacific-wide free trade zone at an annual summit Sunday, host Japan may prove a key test case for how realistic that vision is.

Acknowledging that Japan’s economic power is declining, Prime Minister Naoto Kan declared his country must open up its markets and embrace free trade — or risk getting left further behind other regional rivals.

"Japan is determined to reopen itself," Kan said at a press conference that wound up the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, alluding to the historic role that Yokohama, which hosted the summit, played more than 150 years ago as one of the first Japanese ports to open up to the West.

That bold declaration represents a change for Japan, which for decades had been ruled by conservative administrations that were reluctant to engage in trade liberalization and were closely tied with farmers who fiercely oppose lowering protective tariffs. Imported rice, for example, is subject to a 778 percent tariff.

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