TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hailed the hard-won Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on Tuesday, saying it would help raise stubbornly anemic growth at home and boost the entire Asia-Pacific region.
The 12-nation Pacific Rim free-trade pact, reached Monday after eight years of negotiations, will incorporate nearly 40 percent of the global economy, including the biggest and the third-biggest economies, the United States and Japan.
“This is the beginning of a new century of the Asia-Pacific,” Abe said Tuesday in a televised news conference. “It will create a vast economic zone of an unprecedented size . . . and Japan will be there as a central player.”
The deal has to be ratified in the Diet, Japan’s parliament, and by the legislatures of the other countries involved.
The agreement comes at a time when China, Japan’s biggest regional rival, is flexing its muscles. China, the world’s second-largest economy, is not part of the TPP, and Japan sees the deal as a way to regain some of the economic edge it has lost as China has risen.
When he returned to power in late 2012, Abe laid out an ambitious plan to drag the Japanese economy out of two decades of deflation and insipid growth.
The first two “arrows” of his plan involved flooding the economy with money, but the third, and most important, called for wide-ranging structural reforms.
So far, though, his “Abenomics” plan has little to show for itself.
Although corporate profits are sky-high, growth remains weak, and Japan appears to be headed for a second recession in two years. After passing controversial security legislation last month, Abe has said that he will turn his focus back to the economy, vowing to boost the nation’s output by 20 percent by 2020.
For that, Abe needs to fire the third “arrow” with force — and he views the TPP as one way to do it, even though a 2013 government study estimated that the deal would boost Japan’s GDP by only 0.66 percentage points.
“We will prepare well so that companies in our country can take full advantage of the TPP agreement and so the TPP can truly lead to economic recovery for our country,” the prime minister said.
But analysts said the deal is not the magic bullet that Abe is hoping for.
“I think it’s a positive. I just don’t think it’s an enormous one,” said Nicholas Smith of the brokerage CLSA. “If he had managed to win big concessions from the U.S., that would have been fantastic, but they have not managed to do that.”
Most of the deal’s main provisions will be slow to take effect.
Although agriculture accounts for just 1.2 percent of the Japanese economy and half of farmers are 70 or older, farm products were a key sticking point during the negotiations. Japan’s farmers are heavily subsidized, and rice imports carry a 778 percent tariff.
Japan budged only a little on rice, conceding a duty-free quota of 50,000 tons for U.S. imports, rising to 70,000 tons over 13 years. Tariffs on beef imports to Japan will fall from 38.5 percent to 9 percent, but it will take 15 years.
Farmers were not happy about the changes.
“The government said they would make domestic agriculture a growth sector, but it was a lie,” Makio Suzuki, a 66-year-old rice grower from the northern region of Akita, told Japan’s Mainichi newspaper. “There are still some procedures remaining, like ratification in the Diet, so I will raise my voice and protest.”
Meanwhile, Japanese automakers will not see any benefit for decades. U.S. tariffs on imports — currently 2.5 percent on cars and 25 percent on trucks — will take 30 years to be eliminated.
But one area where Japan could feel an effect is health care, which is no small consideration for a country where 40 percent of the population is forecast to be older than 65 by 2050.
Under the deal, patent-style protections on pharmaceutical drugs will be phased out after five years, rather than the 12 years allowed under U.S. law. “This could help push down health-care costs,” Smith said.
The deal provides a much-needed economic component for President Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” part of which is aimed at countering China’s influence. China, meanwhile, is promoting its own Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which excludes the United States.
Abe said Tuesday that he encouraged China to consider joining the TPP. “It would be extremely meaningful and would contribute to the security and the stability of the Asia-Pacific region if China would join the system in the future,” he said.
China’s government welcomed the TPP agreement, saying it was open to any deals that promoted regional economic integration. But it has repeatedly raised questions about the transparency of the negotiating process.
China recently signed free-trade deals with South Korea and Australia and has proposed its own Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, but a successful TPP deal could undermine that effort.
China had reportedly been invited to join the TPP negotiations but was wary of the proposed rules. Some experts repeated Beijing’s concerns that the deal was part of a U.S.-led effort to contain China’s rise. Others voiced regret that China was not involved at the outset in negotiations to shape a new regional trade pact.
“It is about forming a new set of rules in a new trade system which is led by the U.S.,” said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations and director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing. “That will create historical difficulties for China in the long run.”
On social media, some Chinese repeated nationalist arguments about containment, although others expressed concerns that China could be left behind.
“Excluding a market as big as China, it is just their own wishful thinking,” a commenter using the handle Mencius wrote on the Paper news app.
Denyer reported from Beijing. Yuki Oda in Tokyo and Liu Liu in Beijing contributed to this report.