Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda says Japan will participate in talks to join a U.S.-backed Pacific Rim free trade zone that aims to boost trade by eliminating tariffs.
Noda's decision Friday to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks comes after intense debate within the ruling party.
Big exporters say joining the zone would enhance regional trade and investment and keep Japan competitive. Heavily protected Japanese farmers say their livelihoods would be threatened by cheaper imported agricultural goods.
Nine Pacific Rim nations are currently negotiating to create the free trade bloc, including the U.S. and Australia.
Noda made the announcement on the night before he is to leave for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hawaii.