Japan and the United States have agreed on a deal to allow Tokyo to join talks on a U.S.-led Asia-Pacific free trade pact that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is making a keystone of his strategy to open Japan's economy and spur long-sought growth.
"Japan and the U.S. agreed," Abe told reporters on Friday at the start of a meeting with cabinet ministers involved in trade matters. He added that he wanted Tokyo to join talks as soon as possible.
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The bilateral deal brings Japan closer to entering talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact, which Japan hopes to participate in as early as July.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month announced his decision to join the trade talks - despite fierce opposition from Japan's politically powerful farm lobby - as part of a "third arrow" in his "Abenomics" policy triad, after fiscal spending and drastic monetary policy easing.
Japan needs formal approval by all 11 participating countries in order to take part in the trade talks. If Japan does join, the pact would cover almost 40 percent of world economic output.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Linda Sieg and Edmund Klamann)