WASHINGTON — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Friday the country plans to begin consultations to join the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade pact that has significant implications for apparel brands, retailers and domestic textile producers.

Trade ministers and world leaders, including President Obama and Noda, have convened in Honolulu for the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic & Leaders’ Meeting this weekend, where they are discussing ongoing efforts to lower trade barriers and promote economic cooperation among the 21 APEC member economies. The TPP negotiations between nine of the APEC countries are a top item on the summit’s agenda, where a framework is expected to be unveiled.

“The United States welcomes Prime Minister Noda’s important announcement expressing Japan’s intention to begin consultations with Trans-Pacific Partnership countries toward joining the TPP negotiations,” said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. “In close consultation with Congress and our domestic stakeholders, we look forward to engaging with the Japanese in these discussions. To join the negotiations, Japan must be prepared to meet the TPP’s high standards for liberalizing trade and to address specific issues of concern to the United States regarding barriers to agriculture, services and manufacturing trade, including non-tariff measures. Japan’s interest in the TPP demonstrates the economic and strategic importance of this initiative to the region.”

The TPP negotiations currently encompass nine countries: the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, Peru, Brunei, New Zealand, Chile and Malaysia. The addition of Japan would bring the total current participants to 10 and could potentially further open a significant consumer market for U.S. apparel exports. There have also been reports that Canada is considering joining the talks.

“Obviously, Japan is a huge consumer market,” said Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “Depending on how the rules come in [governing the flow of goods within the TPP region], you could potentially sell apparel made in Vietnam or Malaysia into Japan duty-free with no restrictions. That would be a huge boon for U.S. brands.”

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