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Asean-Japan talks on shaky ground

The Nation (Bangkok) | 27 November 2006

Asean-Japan talks on shaky ground

Southeast Asian states hostile to Tokyo’s list of exempted goods

Petchanet Pratruangkrai

Negotiations for the free-trade agreement (FTA) between Southeast Asian countries and Japan may fail as Japan is planning to request that over 500 products be excluded from the deal, a senior trade official said last week.

Winichai Chaemchang, deputy director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said Japan was independently lobbying each member of Asean to accept its requirements.

However, some Asean states, including Thailand, have predicted that Japan’s exclusion list will not be accepted.

"The number of products on the list is very high, though Japan has said it only makes up 1 per cent of the total value of the goods it imports from the 10 members of Asean," he said.

Winichai added that Japan might begin to concentrate less on the regional trade agreement in the belief that it could achieve more through bilateral trade pacts with each Asean member.

Japan is awaiting the implementation of bilateral trade agreements with the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore.

It is in negotiations with Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma and recently finalised agreements with Thailand and Indonesia that are waiting to be signed.

As Japan has either concluded or is pursuing bilateral trade negotiations with every Asean country, it is likely to lose interest in concluding the Asean FTA, Winichai noted.

However, he added that the benefit Asean members would gain from the regional agreement might be less than what they would get from a bilateral pact, citing Thailand as an example.

"Thailand can have more of its products access the Japanese market under a bilateral trade pact. The tariff rate for some exports, particularly agricultural goods, would be lower than [that offered to] other Asean members," Winichai explained.

Negotiations for the Asean-Japan FTA started two years ago in pursuit of a "comprehensive economic partnership" between Asean and Japan.

The agreement, as part of the "Asean-plus" scheme to promote economic grown in Asia, is intended to boost trade, services and investment.

Other Asean regional trade agreements have been made with China, South Korea and India.

Meanwhile, the European Union is considering a Closer Economic Partnership Agreement with Asean after a study showed this would benefit both regions.

Negotiations for an Asean-EU agreement are expected to begin early next year once the member states of each bloc have expressed their support for such a deal.

 source: The Nation