SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is underscoring the need for her country and Japan to speed up efforts to conclude an economic partnership agreement featuring bilateral free trade.
“It’s time to seal the deal,” Gillard said Monday in a dinner speech at the two-day 50th Australia-Japan Joint Business Conference in Sydney.
For Australia, no EPA “should be more natural or logical than with Japan,” she said.
The Australian leader stressed that now is the time for action, saying the first thing the two countries can do is get the free-trade pact done.
Finalizing the pact would reduce input costs, contribute to Japanese food security, help bilateral services grow and provide a platform for Japan to join the negotiations on expanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade framework.
While noting that a few obstacles remain, Gillard said they can be defeated by determined political resolve on both sides.
She also said that 2012 is a fitting time to conclude the Australia-Japan negotiations on the EPA.
“Perhaps now, as this special anniversary year (for the Australia-Japan business conference) enters its final months, we can find an opportune moment to finalize” the EPA, Gillard added.
The two countries have held 16 rounds of talks since April 2007, but they remain at odds over farm trade. The Australians wants Japan to abolish its tariffs on beef, wheat and dairy products from Australia.
The Australia-Japan Joint Business Conference brings together mainly businesspeople from the two countries for discussions on ways to strengthen bilateral relations. The first meeting was held in 1963.