Trade chief planning Asia visit to promote WTO cause

Trade chief Takashi Fukaya said Friday that he will visit India and other Asian countries around May 2 when economic ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations hold their first joint conference with their counterparts from Japan, China and South Korea in Myanmar.

The plan is part of ongoing joint efforts by Japan and the European Union to iron out the differences of opinion between the United States and developing countries on the new round of World Trade Organization-led trade liberalization talks.

“I’m considering making a visit around May 2 when trade ministers from Japan, China, South Korea and ASEAN hold a meeting in Myanmar,” Fukaya told reporters following Friday’s Cabinet meeting.

“I’d like to definitely include India in the itinerary” because of his friendship with his Indian counterpart, Fukaya said.

Fukaya went on to say that his trip will work in favor of Japan and the EU, which have both urged the U.S. and developing countries to take a flexible stance on the launch of the new WTO round, following the breakdown of the WTO Seattle ministerial summit in December.

Fukaya conveyed his plan for the Asian trip to EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy in a telephone conversation the previous evening — the third such conversation they have held since last month in an effort to bridge the opposing interests of the U.S. and developing countries in holding the next round of trade discussions.

Japan and the EU are both pursuing a comprehensive agenda that would include not only the so-called built-in agenda of agriculture and services but also antidumping and a broader range of other issues.

While the U.S. is opposed to a comprehensive package and interested in key sectors such as agriculture and labor, developing countries are wary of issues such as labor and investment.

Conflicting interests among the WTO members remain so serious that it would be difficult for the WTO to launch the new round before the U.S. presidential election is held this fall, Fukaya added.