Japan’s Christian leaders have criticized the government’s decision to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade negotiations currently underway among the United States and eight other partners.

“The government’s decision is against the principle of democracy, and lacks an explanations of the merits and demerits,” said Rev. Isamu Koshiishi, moderator of the National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ).

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced Japan’s decision to participate in the TPP talks Nov. 11, on the eve of his attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“With Japan at the negotiating table we are called to monitor the ongoing process on behalf of fairness and openness which will protect the interests of the powerless,” said Rev. George W. Gish, vice moderator of the National Christian Council in Japan.

Japanese farmers, fishermen and medical workers are generally against participation, but leaders of export-oriented business corporations support it. Some Japanese are concerned about the potential impact on Japan’s economy by opening up its markets.

“The Japanese government is now caught between the conflicting interests of its two main economic sectors, as well as the consumer-based concerns for lower costs and safety of food products along with additional worries about the quality of health care and other consumer-oriented services that would likely be threatened by the easing of safeguards within the projected TPP agreements,” said Gish.

Rev. Hiroyuki Yamagata, pastor of Kushiro Christ Gospel House, an independent Protestant church in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, warned that the participation can threaten “the weak and the poor,” saying that the “free” trade can be “an introduction to bondage of their freedom.”