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Brunei, Japan talking FTA

Borneo Bulletin

Brunei, Japan talking FTA

14 April 2005

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan on Wednesday began the first round of talks on reaching a free trade agreement (FTA) with ASEAN in a move that could be a driving force to build an East Asian community.

The three-day talks started with Japan holding bilateral meetings with officials from half of ASEAN members — Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Talks with the whole of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are set for Thursday and Friday, officials said.

Separately on Tuesday, a Japan-Indonesia study group comprising government officials, business people and academics adopted a report recommending the two nations launch talks to conclude a bilateral FTA.

"The joint group agreed on the recommendation and it is now up to the two countries’ leaders to decide," a government official said. "We would be able to get deeper and more comprehensive deals under bilateral negotiations than in multilateral talks."

Indonesia has been lagging behind other major ASEAN members in trade talks with Japan.

Tokyo sealed its first free trade agreement with Singapore two years ago and this month the second pact went into force with Mexico, seen as a gateway for the US market.

Japan has also reached a draft agreement with the Philippines on a bilateral free trade deal, which would allow Filipino nurses and careworkers to work in Japan.

Negotiations with Malaysia and Thailand are also under way.

After talks between ASEAN and its key trade partners in Jakarta last September, Indonesian Trade Minister Rini Suwandi said ASEAN-Japan negotiations should be completed by 2007.

She forecast an FTA with Japan would be in place by 2012 for ASEAN’s six more developed members — Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

ASEAN’s four other members are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.