A Trans Pacific Partnership without the US and escalating concerns about North Korea are expected to dominate on Prime Minister Bill English's trip to Japan this week.

English heads to Japan on Tuesday to meet with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and said it was a priority visit for him, given Japan was the third-largest economy in the world.

It is his first meeting with Abe as Prime Minister and the main focus would be trade - in particular pursuing the Trans Pacific Partnership without the US after its withdrawal from the agreement last year.

Japan initially said there was little value in it without the US but is now pushing to continue with the agreement as a group of 11 countries.

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Japan was first to ratify the TPP and New Zealand was second, finishing the formal process last week.

"The decision sends the clear message that we, like the Japanese, see continuing value in the agreement," English said.

He indicated New Zealand was not interested in renegotiating the agreement and would prefer to pursue the TPP rather than start talks on a bilateral agreement with Japan.

"The discussion will be a discussion about advancing the TPP in its current state rather than further trade negotiations."

Although the US was the big win of the TPP for New Zealand, a trade agreement with Japan is a good second.

Japan is one of the countries in the TPP grouping with which New Zealand does not already have a free trade agreement - the others are Mexico, Canada, and Peru as well as the USA.

North Korea will also be high on the agenda after North Korea's recent tests of medium range missiles into the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula which have led to concerns it is close to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

English said he would canvas Japan's views on the situation with Abe.

"Provocation seems to be what is behind the most recent launch. I'm sure we share with Japan the view that we want to see this tension resolved without conflict and we are again putting some confidence in the fact that the US and China in particular seem to be working alongside in order to achieve some kind of resolution without conflict."

English said China was closer to North Korea than most other countries and the Chinese Government was putting pressure on over the issue.

"Anything they can do to head off further provocation from North Korea is welcome."

North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday from a launch site near its border with China 790 km into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

The missile flew for 30 minutes, longer than other recent missile launches.

The US and Japan have called for stronger sanctions and an urgent meeting of the Security Council in response.

English will also visit Hong Kong and will be accompanied by a business delegation.