Easing the ban would allow Japan to join multinational projects such as the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 fighter [EPA]

Japan's decades-old weapons export ban will be eased, setting the stage for the country's small defence industry to participate in multinational projects, local media reported.

Yomiuri newspaper said on Friday that the defence minister, Yasuo Ichikawa, had told the Reuters news agency this month that he expected a government decision on a possible easing of the self-imposed ban before long.

But the chief cabinet secretary, Osamu Fujimura, said he had no knowledge of any planned easing of the ban as reported by the newspaper.

"Our position is to follow the weapons export ban that has been in place until today," he told a news conference.

The Yomiuri said Yoshihiko Noda, Japan's prime minister, would convey his plans on the issue to US President Barack Obama in November when they are likely to meet.

The US has sought Japanese technology for use in joint weapons development, the newspaper said.

Japan in 1967 drew up its "three principles" on arms exports, banning sales to countries with communist governments, that are involved in international conflicts, or that are subject to United Nations sanctions.

However, the rules evolved into a blanket ban on arms development and production with any country other than Japan's chief ally, the United States, hurting the competitiveness of the country's defence industry, which accounts for less than one per cent of total Japanese industrial production.

Pacifist constitution

The easing would allow Japan, which has a pacifist constitution, to export weapons and technologies to countries that have agreed to international arms export regulations, the Yomiuri reported, citing government sources.

Easing the ban would also allow Japan's defence industry to join multinational projects such as the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 joint strike fighter and enable defence contractors such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to cut costs.

Other major Japanese defence contractors include Kawasaki Heavy Industries and IHI Corp.

The ruling Democratic Party has called for easing the export ban but Noda's predecessor Naoto Kan did not alter the rules.

Efforts to review the ban have faced domestic opposition in the past.

According to Yomiuri, the government and the Democrats aim to discuss their position with the second biggest opposition New Komeito Party, which has been wary about easing the ban.

The paper said that though parliamentary approval is not required to lift the ban, the two sides need Komeito's help to pass bills in the divided parliament, where the opposition controls the upper chamber.

Source: Agencies