Abe reaches deal with Bahrain on GCC talks

Kyodo

The leaders of Japan and Bahrain have agreed to resume a strategic dialogue between resource-poor Japan and a regional grouping of oil-producing gulf countries, Japanese officials said.

The accord was reached between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, prime minister of Bahrain, on the first day of a trip by Abe to four Middle Eastern and African countries. Abe is the first prime minister from Japan to visit Bahrain.

“Japan hopes to strengthen and develop the friendly and cooperative relations with Bahrain,” which is important to security of the Middle East and gulf region, Abe said at the outset of their meeting.

The leaders issued a joint statement saying they agreed to reconvene a ministerial strategic dialogue between Japan and the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the officials said Saturday. A similar dialogue was held in 2010 and 2011.

The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Under the statement, they agreed to resume negotiations to conclude a free trade agreement at an early date, the officials said.

Given its dependence on oil imports from the GCC nations, Japan hopes to bolster ties to secure a stable supply of energy. About 76 percent of Japan’s imports of crude came from GCC members as of 2011, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Building on the momentum generated by the agreement with Bahrain, Tokyo aims to urge other GCC nations to also agree to resume FTA talks, the officials said. Japan and the GCC started FTA talks in 2006 but negotiations have been suspended since 2009.

Abe’s government aims to boost the proportion of trade from countries Japan has signed FTAs with to 70 percent of its total by 2018.

Abe also expressed plans to help Bahrain more with infrastructure development, the officials said.

Bahrain constitutes the first leg of Abe’s six-day trip, which also includes Kuwait, Qatar and Djibouti.

“I hope I will be able to enhance our ties comprehensively, rather than focusing only on oil and other energy fields,” Abe told reporters ahead of his departure.

“I am going to market (Japan) to the rapidly growing gulf countries,” he said.