Japan to focus on FTAs after collapse of WTO Talks

Mainichi News, Japan

Japan to focus on FTAs after collapse of WTO Talks

25 July 2006

Japan is expected to focus its trade policy more on bilateral free trade agreements after the World Trade Organization’s Doha round of global trade liberalization talks has effectively collapsed.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said economic situation will change even if the WTO talks are suspended for years, forecasting that many countries will step up efforts to clinch FTAs in the meantime.

Japan has concluded FTAs with only three countries including Mexico, and is negotiating such deals with eight other economies, far behind the United States and Europe.

Expressing alarm, a senior official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Japan cannot miss the bandwagon while moves to form FTAs are becoming active throughout the world.

At a WTO Trade Negotiations Committee meeting in Geneva on Monday, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy declared the effective suspension of the Doha round after six key WTO members, including Japan, failed to narrow their differences and gave up working out an accord on "modalities," or a broad framework, for market-opening steps for industrial and agricultural goods, by the deadline of August.

Lamy said, "It is now clear that it will not be possible to finish the Round by the end of 2006" as scheduled.

"I believe that the only course of action I can recommend is to suspend the negotiations across the Round as a whole to enable the serious reflection by participants which is clearly necessary," a WTO press release quoted Lamy as saying.

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries hoped to use the WTO talks as a catalyst to promote reform of the nation’s heavily protected agriculture sector. As part of the reform efforts, the ministry has recently launched programs to intensively support farmers with strong competitiveness.

If Japan eases up on agriculture reform by using the collapsed WTO round as an excuse, the country will have to pay the price for that, a senior official of the ministry said. (Jiji Press)