Senior talks on Aussie FTA get under way

Kyodo

Senior government officials from Japan and Australia began a four-day meeting Tuesday in Tokyo to discuss a bilateral free-trade agreement, with the outcome likely to set the tone for separate consultations on Tokyo’s future participation in U.S.-led trans-Pacific free-trade talks scheduled for next week.

Australia, a major agricultural exporter and one of the nine countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has been calling on Japan to further open its market for beef and other farm products, while Tokyo wants them exempted from the elimination of tariffs.

At the meeting, Deputy Foreign Minister Shinichi Nishimiya expressed hopes for constructive discussions with his Australian counterparts and also noted Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s eagerness to advance the bilateral trade talks.

The negotiations, which began in April 2007 and are currently in their 14th round, have dragged on for almost five years. On the agenda were issues of materials and services, investment, energy and mineral resources, and food supply.

“If Japan cannot compromise on the farm sector in the bilateral free-trade talks, I’m afraid Australia will again demand at the TPP preliminary consultations that we open our market,” a source involved in the negotiations said.