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Colombia will join Japan in a comprehensive and collective approach to the coming round of global free-trade talks, but Tokyo must make efforts to abolish agricultural subsidies and improve the transparency of its farm trade rules, Colombian Foreign Trade Minister Martha Ramirez said Thursday.

“At the Uruguay Round (of the previous multilateral trade negotiations), we developing countries abolished trade barriers or lowered tariffs on industrial and high-tech products. Unfortunately, developed countries didn’t scrap trade barriers and tariffs on our agricultural exports or give up on the agricultural subsidies as we demanded,” Ramirez said in an interview with The Japan Times and other media in Tokyo.

“Basically, we support Japan’s proposal for a comprehensive approach to the (upcoming) World Trade Organization round at a single undertaking, but want (Japan) to help balance the negotiations by taking more into account the stance of we developing countries,” she said.

Ahead of President Andres Pastrana’s official visit to Japan in mid-May, Ramirez is in Tokyo to promote support and investment from the government and business circles as well as to boost trans-Pacific trade between Latin America and Asia.

Ramirez urged Japan to invest in the Pacific Access Action Program, in which Colombia and Venezuela have initiated development of port and railway infrastructure on the Pacific coast in Latin America to facilitate business access and trade with Asia. “Our most urgent task is to expand trade with Asia,” she said.

Pointing to the trade imbalance between Japan and Colombia, Ramirez also asked Japan to purchase the nation’s coffee beans as well as fresh flowers, fruits, crops and fertilizers, leather products and auto parts.

Boasting Colombia’s economic relations with the United States, Latin America and Europe based on preferential duties that translate into a market of 800 million people, Ramirez said Colombia could serve as a bridge between Japan and those markets if Japanese investment is enhanced.

Preparations are also under way for the launch of the Free Trade Area of the Americas among regional economies in 2005 for the eventual abolishment of tariffs among members by 2015, she said.

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