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Japan, Australia to speed up trade talks

The Age, Melbourne

Japan, Australia to speed up trade talks

24 April 2007

AAP. Japan and Australia have agreed to a fast-paced timetable of negotiations on a free trade pact after two days of initial talks.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) deputy secretary Peter Grey said negotiations in Canberra had enjoyed a "very good start" and both countries planned to meet three more times this year.

"It’s important that we get a comprehensive agreement," Mr Grey told reporters, stressing there was no formal deadline for negotiations.

"But I think what we have got ... is agreement that we will meet every two to three months. Frankly, we couldn’t handle anything speedier than that.

"That means we probably should get in another three rounds this year - one in July, then another two before the close of the year."

Talks this week had focused on an overall approach to the trade agreement without going into its substance, he said.

Japan’s influential agriculture sector is lobbying to be left out of any free trade deal with Australia, which estimates the agreement could be a $40 billion boon to its economy over the next 20 years.

Japan is the biggest buyer of Australian exports.

Mr Grey said both countries acknowledged there were sensitivities when it came to removing trade barriers, particularly with Australian agriculture’s desire to get improved access to Japanese markets.

Both countries had developed a list of issues to be discussed, including industrial and agricultural goods, services and investment as well as government procurement, intellectual property and competition.

Later talks would consider market access issues, he said.

Mr Grey said Japan and Australia had a "degree of commonality" when it came to trade talks.

"We’re both developed countries, we’re both members of the OECD, we’re both major contributors and participants in the WTO (World Trade Organisation)," he said.

"So we can do it with confidence that there’s ... a common understanding on some of these basic framework-type issues."

Mr Grey, a former ambassador to Japan, declined to compare the discussions with Australia’s engagement with China on a similar trade deal.

Australia was capable of handling both negotiations simultaneously, he said, along with trade talks with ASEAN, Malaysia and Chile.

The second round of talks will be held in late July in Tokyo.