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Japan pushes for trade accord with GCC states

Gulf Daily News, 21st December 2005

Japan pushes for trade accord with GCC states


MANAMA: A Japan Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Bahrain and other GCC countries can be easily implemented without any complications.

Japanese Ambassador Takao Natsume said his government has proposed the FTA to GCC governments but has yet to schedule the beginning of negotiations.

"The GCC governments have been busy with a series of events so meetings have yet to be established, but we believe that an FTA with Japan would be relatively easy to negotiate," said Mr Natsume.

"The main stumbling blocks with previous free trade agreements we have been involved in were in the area of agriculture and since the GCC countries are not huge agriculture producers, we don’t see this as a problem here."

Mr Natsume said his government would welcome either FTAs with individual GCC countries or with the region as a bloc.

Mr Natsume was speaking on the occasion of Japanese Emperor Akihito’s birthday, which falls on December 23 and is also his country’s National Day.

He is hosting a reception at the Diplomat Radisson SAS Hotel tonight to mark the occasion.

The invitation only event will be attended by diplomats, businessmen, government officials and other guests.

Mr Natsume said economic ties between the two countries continues to improve, especially through the signing of several multi-million dollar contracts between Japanese firms and Bapco, Alba and the Electricity and Water Ministry in Bahrain.

"Trade with Japan accounts for approximately 33.5 per cent of Bahrain’s world trade," he said.

"The volume of trade between Japan and Bahrain jumped to over $666,160,000 last year from $485,053,000 in 2003."

The trade balance is currently in Japan’s favour, which currently imports over $275.5 million and exports $390.6m.

Mr Natsume said the opening of Bahrain’s embassy in Tokyo this year marks a new era in its partnership between the two countries.

He said his government had been waiting for this for 17 years, since the Japanese Embassy was established in Manama in 1988.

"Bahrain’s embassy was opened in September, making it the last GCC country to open an embassy in Japan," he said.

"We hope this will lead to a new era in co-operation between the two countries."

Former Health Minister Dr Khalil Hassan was appointed Ambassador.

Mr Natsume said political ties between the two countries had also improved through the exchange of several high level visits.

These include a visit by Japanese parliamentary secretary Katsuyuki Kawai to Bahrain in June and Foreign Affairs Senior Vice-Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda in November.

Former Bahrain Monetary Agency (BMA) deputy governor Khalid Al Bassan visited Japan in June followed by governor Rasheed Al Maraj in November.

In October Foreign Affairs assistant under-secretary for co-ordination and follow-up Shaikh Abdulaziz bin Mubarak visited.

Mr Natsume also said the embassy hopes to improve cultural ties through events in Bahrain, including a karate demonstration scheduled for mid-February.

He said that since 1994, 15 university graduates from Bahrain went to Japan for higher studies through Japanese government scholarships.

"We would like to offer even more scholarships in the future," said Mr Natsume.

"We actually are able to accept more Bahraini students but many of them declined because they couldn’t get paid leave from their jobs.

"This is something we want to look into to help expand the number of scholarships we offer here."

 source: Gulf Daily News