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Japan to hold joint FTA meetings with Australia, Switzerland

Wednesday October 26, 2005

Japan to hold joint FTA meetings with Australia, Switzerland

(Kyodo) - Japan will hold its first joint study meetings separately with Switzerland and Australia next week in Tokyo to explore the possibility of concluding bilateral free trade agreements, the government said Wednesday.

The meeting with Switzerland is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, while the session with Australia will take place next Wednesday, according to the foreign and trade ministries.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his Australian counterpart John Howard agreed in April to launch a joint FTA study with the aim of concluding it in two years.

Koizumi also reached an accord with Swiss President Samuel Schmid in April that the two countries will start governmental studies on the feasibility of striking an FTA.

Government officials have indicated that if Japan and Switzerland decide to launch formal FTA negotiations, talks will move forward without major difficulties, because the two are both food importers and they have been negotiating in the same group at market-opening talks under the World Trade Organization.

But many officials point out possible stumbling blocks in the projected Japan-Australia FTA talks, because Australia is a major beef, wheat and dairy product exporter and Japan imposes high tariffs on those items to protect local farmers.

Last August, Japanese agriculture minister Mineichi Iwanaga told his Australian counterpart Peter McGauran in a meeting in Australia that Tokyo was willing to seek various steps to strengthen trade ties between the two countries short of an FTA.

 source: Kyodo