Japan, US business leaders call for 2009 start of free-trade talks

Bernama | November 07, 2007

Japan, U.S. Business Leaders Call For 2009 Start Of Free-trade Talks

WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Bernama) — Japanese and U.S. business leaders said Monday their governments should launch negotiations in 2009 to conclude an all-inclusive economic partnership agreement between the world’s two largest economies.

"The councils continue to strongly support a comprehensive, high-level Economic Partnership Agreement as the most effective and enduring way to strengthen bilateral economic relations," Kyodo quoted the leaders as saying that in a joint statement released after ending a two-day annual meeting in Washington.

"Despite the political and other challenges in both countries affecting a potential launch of EPA negotiations, the councils believe it is important to act now to lay the groundwork so that negotiations could proceed in 2009," the leaders said.

More than 40 leaders from the Japan-U.S. and U.S.-Japan business councils took part in their 44th gathering, co-chaired by Nomura Holdings Inc. Chairman Junichi Ujiie and Pfizer Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Kindler.

They discussed political and economic issues of common interest, not only an EPA but also pension reform, health care innovation, energy and the environment, intellectual property, and information and communications technology.

The leaders said they continue to envision an EPA as an "FTA (free trade agreement)-plus" deal that would have to encompass "substantially all the trade" in goods, including agriculture, as well as "substantial coverage" in services, as required under World Trade Organization rules.

They welcomed the Japanese and U.S. governments’ recently started process of "information exchange" concerning details of their respective FTAs with third countries.

"These are very positive developments, but more action is needed by the private sector and both governments to move this forward," the leaders said.

Specifically, they proposed using the period between late 2007 and late 2008 for extensive analysis and information exchange with respect to "the potential economic impact, priority and sensitive areas for negotiation, and implications" of a bilateral EPA.

They chose the year of 2009 as the target date for beginning talks on a bilateral EPA as the year marks the beginning of a new U.S. administration following that of President George W. Bush.

They urged Japan to enhance structural reform of its agricultural sector, which lacks an internationally competitive edge and would therefore be hardest-hit by a Japan-U.S. EPA.

"For Japan, the most important task now is to promote structural reform of the agriculture sector with the objective of strengthening its international competitiveness and transforming it into a vibrant industry," they said.

Speaking at a joint news conference with other key participants, Hiromasa Yonekura, a vice chairman of the Japan Business Federation, said, "Japan must build closer relationships with major farm powers and supplement its future food needs."

Charles Lake, vice chairman of the Japan branch of American Family Life Assurance Co. of Columbus, said there is a need to show trade protectionists in the United States that a bilateral EPA "would be in the interest of both countries" with specific figures supporting the claim.

On other issues, the U.S. and Japanese business leaders said the two governments must take more rapid and aggressive measures to mitigate global warming.

"Delay in curbing greenhouse gas emissions is poor risk management, as this will force our countries to take more drastic and costly action in the future," they said.

As for Japan’s postal privatization, they repeated that Tokyo should ensure equal treatment and competition in all markets in which the new Japan Post companies compete with private-sector rivals, including foreign firms.

In the first step of the 10-year process, state-backed postal service entity Japan Post was reorganized into four business firms under a holding company. The four respectively provide banking, insurance, mail-delivery and over-the-counter services.

But the Japanese government remains involved in the group, owning a 100 percent stake in Japan Post Holdings Co. That means the holding company’s four units are under indirect government control.

Private companies in related industries are concerned about the new postal companies entering their turf wielding what they call de facto "state assurances." They say the postal group should be blocked from launching new businesses while the government holds a stake in it.

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source: Bernama