Mainichi Daily News, Japan
Gillard voices importance of FTA with Japan
21 April 2011
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard stressed Thursday in Tokyo the importance of concluding a free trade agreement between the country and Japan, while vowing to remain a reliable supplier of natural resources to the quake-hit nation.
"A comprehensive agreement will benefit Japanese consumers by giving them greater access to a range of quality products," Gillard told a luncheon meeting with Japanese business leaders.
"Japanese producers will also gain new opportunities to sell high-quality products into Australia," she said, adding that the deal will not only benefit merchandise trade but also service sectors.
Japan and Australia have been negotiating an FTA since 2007, but Tokyo has been reluctant to make significant concessions on Canberra’s demand to eliminate tariffs on politically sensitive farm products.
Gillard said the conclusion of the bilateral arrangement would also help Japan make a decision on whether to join negotiations for the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free trade initiative involving Australia, the United States and others.
"It will pave the way for a new stage of Japanese integration into regional and global economies," said Gillard, the first foreign leader to make an official working visit to Japan since the March 11 quake and tsunami.
The Australian prime minister stressed the importance of Japan as her country’s second-largest export market after being in the top slot for over 40 years as well as its third-largest source of imports.
As Japan faces a shortage of energy supply after a nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture was crippled by the twin disasters, Gillard pledged that Australia will continue to be an important supplier of natural resources such as liquefied natural gas, coal and iron ore.
"In overall terms, Australia is the largest single supplier of primary energy to Japan," which is helping to keep Japan become a major exporter of industrial goods, she said.
"Japan can rely on Australia at a time when you have never needed these resources more," Gillard said, adding that Australia will also be a "secure and reliable supplier" of rare earth metals that are essential for advanced manufacturing.
Gillard, who began her four-day trip to Japan on Wednesday evening, is set to deliver a policy speech on Friday and tour the tsunami-ravaged Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture on Saturday, as the first foreign leader to visit the areas stricken by the disasters.