- Hikaru Sato unloads grass from his truck to feed his cows in Takachiho-cho, Japan, an area that is one of Japan’s top beef producers. (Hiro Komae for The New York Times)
Associated Press | 23 Nov 2010
Japan, Australia to restart free trade talks
Japan and Australia agree to make a ’fresh start’ on stalled free trade negotiations
By ROD McGUIRK
The Associated Press
Japan and Australia on Tuesday agreed to make a "fresh start" on stalled negotiations for a free trade deal after the Japanese government embraced a less protectionist trade policy this month.
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told reporters he was committed to "add vitality" to free trade talks following meetings at Parliament House on Tuesday with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her trade and foreign ministers.
A 12th round of talks are due to begin early next year on trade negotiations that began in April 2007 and have since stalled, mainly over Japanese protection of its politically sensitive agricultural sector.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has declared his country must open up its markets and embrace free trade - or risk getting left further behind other regional rivals. As well as trying to inject new life into free trade negotiations with Australia, Tokyo plans to resume suspended trade talks with South Korea and to seek new free trade partners, warning the country needed to become a more attractive place to invest.
Both Maehara and Trade Minister Craig Emerson described the next talks as "a fresh start."
Emerson told reporters that Japan’s new commitment to review agricultural tariffs and to increase competition in farm produce was "profoundly important new thinking."
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, has fallen behind its Asian industrial rival China, the second-largest economy, as Australia’s most important export market for raw materials such as iron ore and coal.
Australia, a major exporter of farm produce such as beef and wheat, is also negotiating a free trade deal with China.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd used the meeting with Maehara to offer Japan a reliable supply of Australian rare earth minerals that are crucial for advanced manufacturing.
China, which produces 97 percent of the world’s supply of the minerals used in products such as cell phones and solar energy panels, recently restricted exports to Japan in the midst of a deepening territorial dispute.
"There’s an important principle in international commerce and that is to ensure that contractual obligations long term, particularly in strategic areas, continue to be met and Australia, consistent with our past, intends to perform that role in the future as well," said Rudd, without mentioning China.