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Japan has faced a number of ‘D’ challenges throughout 2010 that will be increasingly difficult to handle in 2011 unless they are addressed properly and quickly. Time is not by any means a friend in this. The ‘D’ challenges that Japan currently faces include Deflation, De-population or Demographic changes, public Deficit and Debt, Dilution of the stock market, De-leveraging, Dollar Depreciation, Defense and DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) governance.

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The 2010 APEC meeting in Yokohoma ended one month ago but the Japanese media is still discussing whether or not Japan should join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Prime Minister Kan planned to announce Japan’s accession officially at the leaders’ meeting so as to make it a highlight of APEC 2010 but he had to postpone it until June next year because of strong objections of agricultural protectionists.

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The last decade has seen rapid proliferation of bilateral ‘free trade’ agreements (FTAs) while the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations remains stalled.

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The most important objective of international economic cooperation in 2011 is to conclude the Doha Round. The United States has the influence to do that if it is prepared to show political initiative and have realistic expectations of others.

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What did President Obama’s 10 day visit to Asia, covering India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan and attendance at the G20 Summit in Seoul and the APEC Summit in Yokohama achieve?

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The Japanese cabinet decided its FTA trade policy on 9th November. The ‘Basic Policy on Comprehensive Economic Partnerships’ also refers to the ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership’ (TPP), stating ‘…it is necessary to act through gathering further information, and Japan, while moving expeditiously to improve domestic environment, will commence consultations with the TPP member countries’.

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President Obama’s trip to India, Indonesia, the G20 in Korea and APEC in Japan was all about America’s new engagement with Asia. As he said in his address at APEC in Yokohama, America wants to gain its share in the growth of Asian markets as they become a more and more important part of the global economic opportunity. But what does America need to do to achieve that objective?

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Japanese politicians are still debating whether Japan should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). TPP members are not allowed exclusions. Agriculture is the issue, specifically the domestic political constraints imposed by protection of that sector in Japan. At the same time, the business sector is pushing hard to join.

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ‘new American moment in international relations’ speech, delivered to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC on September 8, 2010, has been widely discussed and debated. Although the speech did not concern Asia only, it does signal important changes in the way the United States looks at Asia, especially its regional architecture. One unusual aspect of the speech was the amount of space devoted to regions and regional organisations in general.

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President Obama’s twice-deferred trip to Indonesia is now scheduled for the week after next, and will be combined with a visit to Australia. In the familiar phrase, these visits come at the ‘best of times and the worst of times.’ It is the best of times because US relations with both Jakarta and Canberra have never been better.

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