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Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma and his Singaporean counterpart, George Yeo, agreed Monday to enhance cooperation for establishing a broad economic partnership between Japan and Southeast Asia.

Yeo told Hiranuma during a 30-minute meeting in Tokyo that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations places importance on Japan as a source of investment, technical transfer and regionwide manufacturing networks, a Japanese official said.

On ASEAN’s economic ties with China, Yeo was quoted as saying that the 10-member regional group, including Singapore, expects benefits from China as a potential market for Southeast Asian farm produce and tourism.

ASEAN and China agreed in November to create a free trade area within 10 years.

Japan and ASEAN are slated to hold their second working-level meeting Thursday over a plan to study economic integration, not only in trade but also investment, tourism, intellectual property and competition policy.

Hiranuma said he expects Japan and ASEAN to overcome difficulties and proceed with discussions at the ASEAN-Japan expert group on Closer Economic Partnership, building on the Japan-Singapore free trade accord signed in January.

Hiranuma was apparently referring to the difficulty Japan is expected to face in domestic politics in opening its agricultural market.

The meeting this time will include officials from Japan’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, the official said.

Yeo’s visit to Tokyo, which is to last until today, is part of a two-week official trip to the United States and Japan that began March 5. He was scheduled to to meet other Japanese political and business leaders.

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