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Japan, Thailand launch fourth round of free trade talks

Japan, Thailand launch fourth round of free trade talks

Associated Press

13 September 2004

(Tokyo) Japan and Thailand launched a fourth round of talks on Monday toward signing a free trade agreement that would tear down economic barriers between the two countries.

Lowering tariffs in industrial and agricultural trade will be discussed during three days of talks in Tokyo, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. They will also negotiate easing restrictions on investment and labor.
The two sides have held talks about every two months since February. Japan hopes to wrap up the negotiations by the end of the year.

Thailand wants its largest trading partner to ease restrictions on imports of rice and chicken and to allow Thai massage therapists to work in Japan.

Tokyo, meanwhile, is eager to sign trade liberalization pacts with Thailand and other Asian countries to stay competitive with booming China, which is also pursuing similar agreements.

Earlier this month, Tokyo agreed to start free trade talks next April with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It is also pursuing bilateral agreements with the Philippines, Malaysia and South Korea.

Thailand has already asked Japan to eliminate all barriers to imports of Thai rice, sugar, poultry and starch, the Yomiuri newspaper, a Japanese daily, reported on its Web site on Monday.

Bangkok likely demanded the concessions in response to Tokyo’s request that Thailand ease restrictions on Japanese investment and entry into the service industry, the Yomiuri said.

Demands that Japan lower barriers on imports of agriculture products have hampered Tokyo’s negotiations with other countries due to opposition from the country’s powerful farm lobby.

So far Tokyo has only signed a free trade pact with Singapore, an industrial city-state that exports few agriculture products to Japan. Japan is expected to sign its second bilateral free trade agreement, with Mexico, when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits Mexico City this week.