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Japan and Mexico appear ready to launch a study group next month that will work toward concluding a bilateral free-trade agreement, said Takeo Hiranuma, minister of the economy, trade and industry.

The two countries aim to reach agreement on setting up the study group at a bilateral summit between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Mexican President Vicente Fox, who is due to visit Japan June 5 to June 6, Hiranuma told a news conference.

Working-level officials are discussing whether the group should be comprised solely of private-sector experts or also include government representatives, ministry officials said.

Earlier this year, Tokyo began bilateral talks on striking an FTA with Singapore by yearend, and a private-sector group is studying a similar agreement with South Korea.

The envisaged FTA with Mexico would likely face domestic opposition from farmers since — unlike Singapore, with whom Japan has little agricultural trade — some 24 percent of Japan’s imports from Mexico consist of pork, asparagus and other foodstuffs.

Japan is one of a few remaining countries having no FTA with any trading partner, due partly to worries such agreements could harm multilateral trade relationships.

However, Tokyo has changed its stance recently as FTAs have proliferated worldwide, with Mexico being one of the most active proponents.

Believing now that FTAs can complement multilateral free-trade negotiations under the World Trade Organization, Japan is also eyeing a regional FTA with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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