The Australian, Canberra
Craig Emerson certain FTA deal with Japan is close
By Rick Wallace, Tokyo correspondent
1 June 2012
Momentum and political will on sealing the long-awaited free trade agreement with Australia are building in Japan, Trade Minister Craig Emerson said yesterday.
Speaking after meetings with his Japanese counterpart, Yukio Edano, and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, Dr Emerson was optimistic the deadlock could be broken.
"It’s got real momentum," he told The Australian here. "We have had many rounds of negotiations, but there are clear signs that there is genuine interest on the part of the Japanese government to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.
"These are always complex negotiations, but given the history of the negotiations for a number of years without much progress, I think it’s heartening."
Negotiations on the proposed pact between Australia and its key trade and investment partner have been ongoing for five years amid reluctance in Japan to give too much ground on agricultural tariffs.
But, after visits from Foreign Minister Bob Carr and now Dr Emerson, there are signs the Australian government has a renewed optimism these barriers can be overcome.
Dr Emerson said a Japan-Australia FTA would be a display of Japan’s sincerity to the world on trade liberalisation as it tried to join the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade bloc.
"For Japan, our FTA negotiations will be an important demonstration of its level of ambition. This FTA could help increase our trade flows, which are not growing as fast as they are with some of Australia’s other large trading partners," he said.
"We should not take it for granted that our bilateral economic relationship will continue to expand as it has in the past.
"That is why the Australian government is committed to concluding a high-quality and comprehensive FTA with Japan."
It is believed to be the first time an Australian minister has publicly portrayed the Australia-Japan deal as an opportunity for Japan to show faith over joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
To achieve the FTA and TPP entry, Japan will have to confront its protectionist agricultural tariffs even as it grapples with a post-Fukushima energy policy and plans to tackle its mounting debts by doubling the consumption tax to 10 per cent.
Dr Emerson said he was confident the FTA was not "languishing" in the list of priorities for Japan.
He also revealed that he was planning to lead a trade mission to Burma amid the rapid political reform under way there and with the removal of sanctions on its regime.
"I would like to think we would have a trade mission going to Myanmar (Burma) in the not too distant future," Dr Emerson said. "I would like to think that I would lead that mission, although we haven’t made any firm decisions on that."