Mexico’s Fox arrives, but FTA in doubt

by Tomoko Otake and Kanako Takahara

Mexican President Vicente Fox arrived Wednesday in Tokyo and immediately faced a tough decision: whether to accept a last-minute compromise on pork imports in stalled negotiations for a free trade agreement.

As the marathon talks continued, prospects for an FTA agreement in time for Fox’s scheduled summit with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Thursday morning, or before his departure Saturday, remained murky.

“We are trying very hard” for a breakthrough, Koizumi told reporters Wednesday evening. “The talks have come to a showdown, with both sides speaking the truth.”

The ministers involved — Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa and agriculture minister Yoshiyuki Kamei — were to resume talks with visiting Mexican Secretary of Economy Fernando Canales and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez after a banquet for Fox at the Imperial Palace in the evening, government officials said.

Early Wednesday morning Japan proposed slashing pork-import tariff rates to about 2 percent from 4.3 percent, thereby opening the nation’s pork market to some 80,000 tons of Mexican pork — twice as much as Japan currently imports. If Fox accepts the proposal, there will probably be a basic accord during his stay in Japan.

Mexico is demanding that Japan set aside 250,000 tons of tariff free pork imports.

Pork has been the biggest point of contention, as it makes up nearly half of all agricultural exports from Mexico to Japan. Other hurdles remain, mainly tariffs on other agricultural products.

The two countries started free trade talks last November.

Fox gets royal welcome

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Wednesday welcomed Mexican President Vicente Fox and his wife at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Fox and his wife attended a banquet in the evening hosted by the Imperial Couple. Before the meeting, a welcoming ceremony was held at the state guesthouse in Tokyo.