Howard meets Aso, repeats Aussie commitment to tariff-taming EPA

by Reiji Yoshida

Australian Prime Minister John Howard met Foreign Minister Taro Aso in Tokyo on Monday and repeated his determination to conclude a bilateral economic partnership agreement that will lower tariffs on farm products, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Two countries are set to kick off talks next month on concluding an EPA. If it succeeds, the deal would benefit Japanese consumers at great expense to farmers, who struggle to compete with Australian products ranging from beef and dairy products to wheat and sugar.

Howard told Aso that he realizes the EPA talks will “be very difficult negotiations” and vowed tenacious efforts to strike a deal.

Aso meanwhile told Howard that Japan attaches great importance to energy imports from Australia, the official said.

The EPA talks also are expected to cover measures to promote and stabilize Japan’s mineral and energy imports from Australia.

According to a recent simulation conducted by Hokkaido, if all tariffs on diary products, beef, wheat and sugar were removed under an EPA with Australia, the damage to the prefecture’s economy would hit 1.37 trillion yen and cause the loss of 47,000 jobs, pushing down Hokkaido’s gross domestic product 4.2 points.

Aso said “sensitivity” on agriculture-related issues should be taken into consideration during the talks, the official said.

Farmers are traditionally strong and influential supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party.