Japan minister handling trade talks in hospital as talks near year-end deadline

TOKYO – The Japanese economy minister involved in talks with the U.S. and other countries on a Pacific Rim trade pact has been hospitalized for tests, just as the negotiations approach a year-end deadline.

Chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Amari, who is in charge of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic recovery and reform program, is expected to be in hospital for three to four days. He didn’t know the nature of the tests.

“I think he can handle things from the hospital and I don’t think it will have any impact,” Suga told reporters Monday. “Once the test results come out there may be further discussion,” he said.

Amari has so many responsibilities that he sometimes jokes his titles won’t all fit on his business card. Apart from heading Japan’s negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, he is the minister of Economic Reform and Revitalization and also Minister of Total Reform of Social Security and Tax.

He faces the challenge, along with Japan’s trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi, of reconciling strong opposition from politically influential agricultural and health industry lobbies with the ambitious requirements of the Pacific trade pact in opening markets and setting rigorous standards for protection of intellectual property.

Amari met with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman over the weekend seeking to iron out differences over contentious trade issues such as Japan’s steep tariffs on rice and other farm products.

The TPP talks are likely to be on the agenda during a visit to Japan on Tuesday by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden. Biden will stop in Tokyo before travelling to China and South Korea.

After the meeting, Amari told reporters the talks were “very tough and had not resulted in agreement. We will continue negotiating,” the Nihon Keizai Shimbun and other newspapers reported.

The 12 nations involved in the trade talks are to meet Dec. 7-10 in Singapore, aiming at reaching an initial agreement.