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GMA, Koizumi to ink free trade agreement

Manila Standard

GMA, Koizumi to ink free trade agreement

9 September 2006

TOKYO-Japan has said it will sign a free-trade pact with the Philippines, ending prolonged negotiations that had stalled largely over how many Filipino nurses could come to work in the world’s second-largest economy.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will sign the economic partnership agreement in Finland on the sidelines of the upcoming Asia-Europe Meeting, the Japanese government said.

“The signing... will take place [Saturday] between President Arroyo and Prime Minister Koizumi,” Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters in Tokyo.

Officials did not immediately release details of the long-delayed deal.

The two countries had initially planned to ink the pact last year. Having missed that, Manila proposed signing the deal in July to mark the 50th anniversary of the reestablishment of relations after World War II.

However, the two sides had remained apart on various issues, with Japan seeking a more open investment climate in the Philippines, which in turn pushed to send more workers to Japan, mostly nurses.

Japan last year tightened visa regulations to crack down on the trafficking of sex workers after pressure from the United States.

But the visa rules led to protests in the Philippines, fearing the restrictions would also affect legitimate workers. Eight million Filipinos-a 10th of the population-work overseas, sending home $10.7 billion last year.

Japan has been seeking closer relations with Southeast Asia, including through free-trade deals, amid tense relations with its closer neighbors China and South Korea over its wartime record.

Since the reestablishment of diplomatic ties, Japan has become the top aid donor to the Philippines, contributing $9.4 billion over the past 23 years or 51 percent of all foreign loans and grants to Manila in the period.

Japan’s first FTA, with Singapore, took effect in late 2002 and Japan has since agreed deals with Mexico, Malaysia and Mexico. AFP