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Japan, Australia free trade talks to begin in April

Bloomberg | 9 March 2007

Japan, Australia Free Trade Talks to Begin in April

By Keiichi Yamamura

March 9 (Bloomberg) — Japan and Australia will begin two days of talks on a possible free trade agreement April 23 in Canberra, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said.

``This is one link to strengthening the strategic relationship between Japan and Australia,’’ Aso told reporters today in Tokyo. ``What will be discussed is sensitive, but we must strive for results that will be of the greatest benefit for Japan.’’

His comments came ahead of Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s Tokyo visit next week to discuss trade and security issues with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Japan is Australia’s biggest export market, and trade between the two countries was A$53.9 billion ($42 billion) in the year ended June 30, 2006.

Australia is seeking lower tariffs on Japanese rice, which Japan’s farm sector opposes. Abe wouldn’t comment on whether Japan was prepared to allow freer trade on rice, wheat, beef dairy products or sugar, areas Australia is likely to pursue.

``Right now there are several possible situations,’’ he said. ``It will likely be a difficult conversation. I can’t make an easy prediction at this point.’’

Biggest Buyer

A free-trade agreement with Japan, which buys 18 percent of Australian exports, would add A$39 billion to Australia’s economy and A$27 billion to Japan’s, according to the Australia Japan Business Co-operation Committee. Trade makes up one- fifth of the A$918 billion economy.

Japan is the biggest buyer of Australia’s coal, liquefied natural gas, crude petroleum and agricultural goods.

Separately, Aso said Japan will continue to negotiate with North Korea in line with the six-party agreement signed last month aimed at getting the communist country to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Two days of talks in Hanoi ended yesterday without any progress in resolving North Korea’s kidnapping Japanese nationals decades ago.

 source: Bloomberg