(Bloomberg) -- Japan’s ruling parties have failed to agree to allow exports of a next-generation fighter jet before a deadline set by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, in a fresh blow for the premier as he seeks to build up the country’s defenses. 

Kishida had called on the coalition led by his Liberal Democratic Party to reach an agreement by the end of February. A prolonged deadlock could disadvantage Japan in negotiations on dividing up work on the aircraft, which are set to start as soon as March, with co-developers Italy and the UK.

“The government wants to explain the need for direct exports even more carefully through questions in parliament, so that we can quickly reach a final agreement between the ruling parties,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters Friday. He added the sides were moving closer together.

The delay comes amid doubts over ambitious plans to bolster Japan’s defenses triggered by rising concern about threats from the likes of China and North Korea. With support at its lowest in a decade or more, Kishida’s government has yet to introduce tax hikes needed to finance the plans in the longer term.

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Defense ministers from the three countries signed a treaty in Tokyo in December to develop the fighter jet, known as the Global Combat Air Program. The three main contractors are Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, BAe Systems Plc and Leonardo SpA. They aim to reach the development phase by 2025 and have the aircraft in service by 2035.

Japan, where pacifist sentiment has remained strong since the country’s World War II defeat, has been gradually easing its virtual ban on arms exports, last year announcing it would allow the sale of Patriot missiles to its ally the U.S. 

Kishida has said exporting the warplane wouldn’t violate Japan’s pacifist principles, and overseas sales would reduce the unit cost for the jet.  

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A survey conducted by national public broadcaster NHK in February found 51% of respondents were opposed to exports from Japan of the fighter jet, while 31% approved.  

Natsuo Yamaguchi, the head of Kishida’s Buddhist-backed junior coalition partner party Komeito, said last month the public had not been properly prepared for the change. He added this week he wanted to seek public understanding of the issue through discussion in parliament.

--With assistance from Takashi Hirokawa.

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