MANILA – Japan should strive to conclude more free-trade agreements with other Asian nations in a bid to speed up economic integration in the region, according to the head of the Philippine chapter of a major Japanese business lobby.
With North America and Europe successfully bolstering economic cooperation within their respective regions, it is vital for East Asia to strengthen its own complementary economic ties, remarked Shoichi Kameyama of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry of the Philippines Inc.
“Japan and other East Asian countries will lose out further to the United States and Europe unless they pursue mutually complementary relations through such efforts as signing bilateral FTAs,” he told Kyodo News in a recent interview.
Kameyama hailed progress toward forging FTAs in the region, including a prospective agreement between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
He argued, however, that East Asian nations need to boost their efforts to conclude FTAs on a bilateral basis, stating this strategy would be broader, deeper and reap quicker benefits than a multilateral approach.
While trade in goods and services can be liberalized to some extent within the framework of the World Trade Organization, bilateral undertakings should be used to address other key areas such as the movement of labor and the protection of intellectual property rights, he said.
In addition to the FTA signed with Singapore in January, Japan should forge more bilateral accords with other ASEAN states, including the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as with China and South Korea, Kameyama said.
“I’m afraid the Japanese government was too slow in understanding that regional and bilateral FTAs are an essential tool to shore up the national interest,” he said.
Japan is expected to enter into formal FTA negotiations with Mexico. It is also studying the possibility of forging agreements with South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand.
The FTA with Singapore has yet to take effect, and Japan’s highly protected farm sector continues to be a major road block in front of further FTAs.
Regarding an FTA feasibility study launched by Japan and the Philippines last week, Kameyama said the two countries would be able to reinforce each other once a framework is completed.
He stressed the importance of relaxing conditions on the movement of labor, especially from the Philippines to Japan, citing the latter’s rapidly declining birthrate.
“On the other hand, the population of the Philippines is growing at a rate of more than 2 percent per year and young people are abundant,” he said. “They can speak English, and many of them are full of hospitality. It’s possible for the Philippines to complement Japan in such fields as nursing care.”
During last week’s working-level talks on a possible FTA, the Philippines reportedly voiced hope that Filipino nurses, caregivers, baby sitters and midwives would be allowed to work in Japan.
Of the approximately 100,000 Filipinos who annually obtain visas to work in Japan, 70 percent are entertainers, many of whom work in nightlife districts.
Allowing more Filipinos to work as nurses in Japan could be a thorny issue, due to domestic opposition.