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Japan to resume free-trade talks with Asean in April

Manila Times, March 13, 2006

Japan to resume free-trade talks with Asean in April

THE Japanese government has decided to resume stalled talks with Asean over signing a free-trade deal from next month, as other Asian nations rush to conclude such agreements, media said Saturday.

An agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was targeted for March 2007, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said, without citing sources.

In the new round of talks, Tokyo would concentrate on signing a pact only on the free- trade area, with focus on scrapping tariffs on agricultural, industrial and other products, the newspaper said.

The Japanese government was now concentrating on signing trade agreements after concluding that broader comprehensive economic pacts required drawn-out negotiations, it said.

A comprehensive economic partnership agreement includes measures to settle disputes and protect intellectual property. Japan was prompted to speed up the process after China signed a deal with the 10-nation Asean, while South Korea reached a basic agreement with the association.

The paper said that once a free-trade agreement had been reached, Japan might consider switching to an economic pact.

The negotiations were originally launched in 2005, but came to a halt in August.

Japan and Asean most recently failed to break a deadlock in talks in December in Kuala Lumpur over a free-trade deal.

Japan’s Trade Minister Toshihiro Nikai said last year that he hoped to conclude the negotiations with Asean by March 2007.

It is the first time Tokyo has tried to hammer out a free-trade deal with an entire region.

Japan has signed free-trade pacts with Singapore and Mexico and reached similar broad agreements with Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

It is also negotiating with South Korea, Indonesia, Chile and is moving toward talks with Australia, India, Switzerland, Vietnam and South Africa.

Tokyo also plans to open negotiations with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members-Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates-which together provide about 75 percent of Japan’s oil imports.

 source: Manila Times