Japan, Australia apart on FTA talks

Kyodo

Japan and Australia kicked off five days of talks in Canberra Monday on sealing a free-trade agreement as persistent differences remained on agricultural products.

In the 15th round of the FTA negotiations launched in April 2007, Tokyo will likely continue to resist opening its market to such items as beef, wheat, dairy products and sugar.

Australia, a major agricultural exporter, has been calling on Japan to eliminate tariffs on those items. Meanwhile, Japan is eager to keep tariffs in place on politically sensitive farm products to protect its farmers.

Australia, which is one of the nine economies already involved in negotiations to conclude a U.S.-led multilateral free-trade pact, has refrained from supporting Japan’s participation in talks on the regional framework, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has given up on declaring Japan’s entry into TPP negotiations before his visit to the United States starting Sunday.

With Japanese farmers and politicians strongly opposed to Tokyo’s participation in the TPP talks, FTA negotiations between Japan and Australia are not expected to make headway, observers said.

The negotiations, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Shinichi Nishimiya and Bruce Gosper, deputy secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will also cover the liberalization of investment and rule of origin, according to the Japanese government.