TOKYO — Japan’s trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama will skip a ministerial meeting on an Asia-wide free trade deal later this week in Thailand to attend parliamentary deliberations, a Diet committee official said Wednesday.
Kajiyama has apparently decided to focus on domestic matters after his predecessor abruptly resigned last week over a money and gift scandal.
Among the matters the new minister faces are collusive ties between Kansai Electric Power Co. executives and a local town hosting one of its nuclear plants.
Hideki Makihara, a senior vice minister of economy, trade and industry, will attend the gathering Friday in Bangkok to be joined by ministers from 16 countries negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Kajiyama will attend a lower house committee starting Friday. His predecessor Isshu Sugawara stepped down last Friday amid allegations that his office offered money and gifts to supporters, in violation of election law.
The RCEP, covering a third of the global economy, has repeatedly missed deadlines amid the differing ambitions of its members, which include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The talks were launched in 2013 and the initial goal was to wrap them up in 2015.
But the 16 members are now aiming for their leaders to announce an agreement after their summit Monday.
On Tuesday, Kajiyama told reporters, “Japan is willing to take a leading role” in the upcoming talks.
RCEP puts together Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, as well as the 10 ASEAN countries — Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.