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U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Thursday that a four-way ministerial meeting should be held next month in Paris under the World Trade Organization, according to a ministry official.

Zoellick voiced hope that ministers from the United States, Japan, Canada and the European Union would meet on the sidelines of the ministerial conference of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, scheduled for May 15 and 16.

He said the four countries should also invite representatives from other nations — such as Brazil and South Africa — to attend a special session aimed at addressing outstanding issues for the new WTO round, the official said.

Kawaguchi did not respond directly to the proposal and did not say whether she would attend the annual OECD conference.

She emphasized, however, that Japan and the U.S. should press ahead with talks on the new round.

Kawaguchi and Zoellick voiced agreement on the importance of keeping developing countries actively involved in this process. They accordingly promised to address issues of concern to these nations, such as agriculture, the official said.

Regarding the timing of a WTO ministerial conference that will take place in Mexico in 2003, Zoellick said Washington wants the meeting to be held in July, while Kawaguchi stated that a fall meeting would suit Japan.

They agreed to hold further discussions on the matter, according to the official.

The 2003 conference is expected to serve as a key barometer for the progress of the trade talks, which are aimed at liberalizing trade and standardizing multilateral trade rules.

The new round of trade talks must be completed by Jan. 1, 2005, under an agreement reached at the WTO ministerial conference in Qatar in November.

Aussie minister coming

SYDNEY (Kyodo) Australian trade minister Mark Vaile will begin a five-day visit to Japan on Saturday to discuss ways to strengthen the two countries’ trade and economic partnership.

“Japan is by far our largest export market, taking 23.7 billion Australian dollars (about 1.64 trillion yen or $11.85 billion) in Australian merchandise exports in 2001,” Vaile said. “But more can be done to help the relationship reach its full potential.

“Investigating prospects for a comprehensive trade and economic agreement is an important aspect of this.”

The first three days of the visit will consist of meetings with key officials in Tokyo, including Yoriko Kawaguchi, foreign minister; Tsutomu Takebe, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries; and Takeo Hiranuma, minister of economy, trade and industry.

A major topic of discussion will be the possibility of a regional economic agreement, officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

“Our view at the moment is that we (Australia) should take the broadest possible approach (for such an agreement) and not exclude any sector,” a department spokeswoman said. “I think both countries have a serious interest in enhancing bilateral relations at the government level, but there is also considerable business support for some kind of new comprehensive agreement.”

Vaile will also meet with representatives of the business community, including representatives of the resources sector, importers and distributors of Australian beef.

He is expected to spend the final day in Fukuoka, where he is to promote Australian products and take part in the 10th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the Australian Consulate General there.

Prior to the Japan trip, Vaile will attend a conference of Asian government and business leaders, the Boao Forum for Asia, in China.

He will proceed to South Korea on Wednesday and Thursday, where he is scheduled to participate in the second Ministerial Joint Trade and Economic Commission meeting.

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