Sydney Morning Herald | 09 Oct 2012
Gillard cites food security in push for Japanese trade agreement
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has used rising concern in Japan about food security to renew the push to finalise a Free Trade Agreement.
In a speech last night to the Australia-Japan Foundation dinner, celebrating 50 years of business relations, Ms Gillard said that with concerted political will on both sides, the deal could be clinched before the end of this year.
"Such an agreement would be a fitting culmination of all our great work over the past 50 years. It would ensure Japan does not fall behind our other FTA partners," she said.
The FTA has been under negotiation since 2007, when John Howard was prime minister. In recent years, negotiations have stalled due to political instability in Japan and the need to rebuild following the devastating tsunami in 2011.
One of the key sticking points has been agriculture — heavily protected Japanese farmers are hostile to the idea of tariff-free imports.
Ms Gillard said the FTA would allay concerns about food security. "It would contribute to Japanese food security by making Japan an even more affordable export destination for Australian farmers," she said.
Similarly, Ms Gillard said heavily protected Japanese industries would be able to innovate and expand through reduced input costs.
Australia and Japan are party to negotiations through the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) process to establish an economically-integrated free-trade bloc in the Pacific, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The TPP was born out of frustration with the glacial global free trade push, known as Doha, and the realisation that it will never be achieved.
Ms Gillard said last night that an FTA between Australia and Japan would help the partnership negotiations.
"It would provide an achievable staging point on the way to Japan joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement if they wish," she said.