ASEAN, Japan endorse free trade pact, but rice, beef kept out

Associated Press | November 21, 2007

ASEAN, Japan endorse free trade pact, but rice, beef kept out

SINGAPORE: Japan and Southeast Asia endorsed a free trade agreement Wednesday under which tariffs would be eliminated on 90 percent of imports by both sides, but key items such as rice and beef would remain protected.

The accord, which was crafted after 2 1/2 years of negotiations, will be formally signed next year after parliamentary approvals of member countries.

Both sides, however, wanted it endorsed by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at their summit in Singapore.

The eagerness to have some sort of a formal ceremony to finalize the pact is a reflection of Japan’s eagerness to catch up with China and South Korea, which also have signed similar agreements with ASEAN.

Trade between Japan and ASEAN totaled 18 trillion yen (US$163 billion; €110 billion) in 2006, making ASEAN Japan’s third-largest trading partner after the United States and China.

A joint statement said the pact will provide impetus for creating a larger and more efficient market and strengthen economic ties between Japan and ASEAN.

Once the pact becomes legal, Japan will remove tariffs on 90 percent of imports from ASEAN. However, sensitive products such as rice, beef and dairy products are excluded and will continue to attract duties to protect Japanese agricultural sector.

ASEAN’s six major economies - Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand - will eliminate tariffs on 90 percent of imports from Japan, such as consumer electronics and automobiles, in 10 years.

The remaining four ASEAN members - Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam - will eliminate tariffs within 15 to 18 years.

Also at the summit, Fukuda pledged to contribute an additional stockpile of anti-viral medication for 500,000 people as part of its support to tackle bird flu, Japanese news agency Kyodo reported.

It said Japan will also provide US$300 million (€202 million) over the next five years to ASEAN to improve maritime safety, such as for infrastructure at ports.

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source: IHT