The Japan Times: Dec. 22, 2004
Government adopts FTA policy focusing on partners in Asia
By REIJI YOSHIDA
The government on Tuesday approved a basic plan to promote free-trade agreements, prioritizing accords with Asian trading partners to help build an East Asian community.
It also adopted a set of 12 criteria to choose potential FTA partners, envisioning future negotiations with trading partners outside East Asia.
These were decided at a meeting of Cabinet ministers involved in FTA negotiations, said an official at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.
"We need to have a sense of speed. Push ahead in areas you can start with," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was quoted as saying by the official.
Japan has already signed FTAs with Singapore and Mexico, and agreed in November with the Philippines on a basic accord. Talks are now under way with Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea.
The idea of setting up an East Asian community is meant to enhance regional cooperation based on the ASEAN-plus-three process involving Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states plus Japan, China and South Korea. Japan has suggested that Australia, New Zealand and India be admitted as members of the proposed community.
The criteria for selecting potential partners include whether an FTA would help strengthen Japan’s economic power and solve political and diplomatic issues, whether it would help strengthen Japan’s position in international negotiations such as at the World Trade Organization, and whether it would help secure and diversify stable imports of food and other resources for Japan.
East Asia set as goal in FTA drive
The Asahi Shimbun, 22 December 2004
In an effort to give its trade negotiators more focus, the government has decided to step up the campaign for an East Asian community.
The decision was made at Tuesday’s meeting of Cabinet ministers in charge of trade and economic relations, attended by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
The government is envisioning the formation of an East Asian community similar to the European Union. It would include Japan, China, South Korea and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
According to this strategy, free trade agreements (FTA) with other Asian economies will be used to create the political and diplomatic environment needed to set up a regional community.
The decision reflects government concern that its FTA strategy is lagging that of China, which has been more aggressive in negotiating bilateral trade pacts with Asian countries.
Koizumi was made aware of how Japan is losing ground in this area when he participated in the summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November, government sources say.
The prime minister demanded that his officials quickly work out a basic FTA strategy that would help Japan retake the initiative.
A flexible approach is planned in bilateral negotiations. If a formal FTA is judged unsuitable, the government may opt for investment agreements or broad cooperation arrangements to improve the investment environment where necessary.
On this front, China is expected to be a likely candidate for an investment protection agreement. The Koizumi administration has come under mounting pressure to find a way of protecting the interests of Japanese companies operating in China.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the government also mapped out 12 criteria for selecting FTA partners.
These include the stipulation that any considered agreement should enhance Japan’s position in negotiations with the World Trade Organization.
The criteria also includes ensuring that trade pacts do not adversely affect the nation’s food security and efforts to reform agriculture.