TOKYO - JAPAN will join talks on a Pacific free-trade pact, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Saturday, as his nation hosts the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Yokohama next week.

Japan's centre-left government has been struggling to agree on whether to join discussions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is backed by the United States.

The decision to engage with the trade forum holds political risks for Kan as it may provoke a backlash from Japan's powerful rice farmers, who have long enjoyed protection from cheaper grain imports.

'Regarding the TPP, we decided to start talks with the countries concerned as we need to collect information,' Kan told his cabinet members at the end of a meeting aimed at drafting Japan's free trade policy.

The TPP so far has four signed-up members who have agreed to drop most tariffs and other trade barriers - Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore.

However, the world's largest economy, the United States, is now in talks to join the group, as are Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam. Tokyo's decision-making has gained urgency ahead of an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Japan this month, at which the 21 members will talk about the tricky issues of opening up their markets to each other.

Japan to join free-trade talks