The Australian | October 22, 2013
Mitsubishi boss keen to seal free-trade deal
RICK WALLACE AND DAMON KITNEY
THE chairman of Mitsubishi — a huge investor in Australia’s resource industry — has urged Japan and Australia not to miss the current "window of opportunity" and clinch the long-awaited free-trade agreement.
Business leaders speaking at the Japan-Australia Joint Business Conference in Tokyo have welcomed the renewed focus on trade deals from the Australian government, but called for a rapid conclusion after so many false dawns in the past six years.
Mitsubishi’s Yorihiko Kojima praised the "very positive leadership" shown by the Abbott government and Shinzo Abe’s Japanese government on trade.
"We should not lose this window of opportunity in making progress towards the FTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership," Mr Kojima said.
"The government and the private sector must work together to accelerate this momentum further."
Australia’s agricultural sector is pushing hard for the Japan and Korea FTAs to be finished quickly to minimise the loss of market share to competitors.
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, who is attending the conference, said the Japan and China FTAs were vital for Victoria and Australia’s future.
"We cannot afford to give other countries a head start by not having a free trade agreement," he said.
"But we make this point very clear — these free-trade agreements must include agricultural products. It must include food and fibre as fundamental to the agreement."
Despite apparent progress on the Japan deal, Australia’s deal with South Korea is likely to be the first of the three Asian FTAs to be finished, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop saying it could be struck within months.
"Our expectation is that the Australia-Korea free-trade agreement will be the next to be concluded," Ms Bishop told an audience of business leaders in Seoul last week.
"We have certainly charged our negotiators with the task of concluding it as soon as possible. I feel sure we are looking at months, not years.
"The issues still to be agreed upon are narrowing by the day and I am confident we will be able to achieve it very soon."
Business leaders at the meeting were buoyed by the minister’s confidence.