Bid for WTO talks to take Fukaya to developing states

Trade chief Takashi Fukaya said on Thursday that he will visit India and a number of other Asian nations as soon as possible to help swiftly launch a new round of trade liberalization negotiations under the World Trade Organization.

Fukaya expressed his intentions Thursday evening in a 40-minute telephone conversation with Pascal Lamy, the European Union’s trade commissioner.

It was the third time the two have spoken together since last month on efforts to bridge the opposing interests of the U.S. and developing countries in holding the next round of trade discussions.

While the U.S. has not yet shown a flexible attitude toward drawing up a comprehensive agenda for the new round, the developing countries remain reluctant to deal with such issues as investment, Fukaya told reporters.

Japan and the EU are pursuing a comprehensive agenda that would include the so-called built-in agenda of agriculture and services as well as antidumping, investment and competition.

To this end, Fukaya and Lamy agreed on the need for them to both visit developing countries as soon as possible.

Although the timing of Fukaya’s trip has not been specified, a senior official of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry said that if he is granted permission from the Diet, Fukaya is likely to go in May, when ASEAN’s economic ministers will hold their first joint conference with their counterparts from Japan, China and South Korea.

On Thursday, the two ministers also agreed to cooperate with WTO Secretary General Mike Moore in establishing a consensus on a “short-term package” covering key issues at its general council meeting on May 3.

This includes the abolition of tariffs on imports from the least developed countries, implementation of the Uruguay Round agreements in support of developing countries, making the WTO decision-making mechanism transparent and helping enhance technological and human capacity for developing countries so they can benefit from a WTO regime.

These areas are considered crucial for the WTO to build confidence among member economies, following its failure last December to advance the launch of a new round during a ministerial meeting in Seattle.

China dispute panel

A semiofficial organization for promoting Japan-China trade and investment in China said Thursday it will set up a committee of business experts to try to settle squabbles over trade and investment between the two nations.

The Japan-China Association on Economy and Trade, affiliated with Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry, said the committee will be established in collaboration with China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.

Sugiichiro Watari, head of the Tokyo-based association and a former Toshiba Corp. executive, will represent the Japanese side on the new panel. The Chinese side will be represented by Chen Xinhua, Vice Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.

The panel will devise a set of policy recommendations to forestall possible disputes relating to bilateral trade and Japanese investment in China.

The panel will also strive to bring the contents of contracts concerning the sale of Japanese technology and equipment to the Chinese side in line with global standards.

Japanese panelists at the new committee will consist mainly of managers and officials from large business companies and industry associations.