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Japan aims to accelerate FTA talks with model accords

TMCNet, Thailand

Japan aims to accelerate FTA talks with model accords

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)TOKYO, March 7_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: ADDING INFO, BACKGROUND)

7 March 2006

Japan plans to accelerate its efforts to conclude free trade agreements with economic partners by holding negotiations based on "model accords," government officials said Tuesday.

Foreign, trade, farm and other ministers involved in FTA negotiations agreed on the policy to expedite the efforts in a meeting Tuesday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said at a regular news conference. He also took part in the ministerial talks.

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The new policy was formulated following criticism in political and business circles that Japan is lagging behind in its drive to sign FTAs, compared with South Korea, for instance, the officials said.

Specifically, the ministers agreed that Japan will present "model accords" to negotiating partners as a basis for discussion, so the parties need to create no FTA from scratch.

Abe said the model accords should be produced based on the FTAs Japan has already signed or ratified.

Japan has FTAs with Singapore and Mexico and has signed such a trade arrangement with Malaysia.

The ministers confirmed that depending on the negotiating partner, Japan should not necessarily aim to sign a comprehensive FTA covering a wide range of areas.

Japan has so far concluded an FTA that includes not only tariff cuts in goods and services trade liberalization, but also investment and cooperation measures such as personnel and technical training.

Abe said from now on Japan might seek to sign an FTA for tariff elimination purposes only or just an investment treaty.

As for ways to speed up the decision-making process within the Japanese government, Abe said senior officials of ministries in charge of FTA talks will meet more frequently to coordinate views.

The government will also hold occasional meetings of the ministers involved in negotiations, he said.

Government sources said high-level officials from the foreign, finance, trade and farm ministries will meet once a week to formulate Japan’s FTA policies. Among more than 15 ministers attending the government meetings on FTAs, core members will meet more often to make decisions quickly, they said.

At present, Japan is in official FTA talks with such economies as the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Chile and South Korea.

Japan aims to start FTA negotiations with the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council that includes Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates later this year, skipping study group sessions usually held prior to formal talks, the sources said.

The GCC includes four other oil producers — Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait — and Japanese business leaders have called for an early signing of an FTA with the council to help secure a stable oil supply.