Visiting Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda proposed Monday that Japan and Mexico launch official negotiations on concluding a bilateral free-trade agreement in October, when Mexico hosts the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

During talks with Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, Castaneda asked for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to visit Mexico City a few days before APEC leaders meet in the resort town of Los Cabos on Oct. 26 and 27 to discuss a bilateral FTA in depth, a ministry official said.

Castaneda said Mexico wants to sign the FTA in October 2003, after a year of negotiations and at the same time as an APEC leaders’ meeting scheduled for Thailand, the official said.

Kawaguchi said she would convey Mexico’s invitation to Koizumi but declined to give a clear answer on whether official negotiations could be launched at that time. She said Japan wants to strengthen economic relations with Mexico toward the October meeting.

When President Vicente Fox visited Japan last June, he and Koizumi agreed to set up a study group of government officials, scholars and business leaders to study an FTA.

The group, launched in September, has so far held five meetings and is set to submit a final report on its recommendations to the governments of the two countries next month.

While Mexico has enthusiastically called for an FTA, large exports of Mexican agricultural products present an obstacle for Japan, whose farm sector would be hurt by Mexico’s inexpensive food products.

Referring to the agricultural exports, Castaneda said the two countries should be able to overcome the “difficult issue” and conclude an FTA, the official said.

Kawaguchi said Japan will wait for the study group’s recommendations and consider what kind of steps to take after that time, the official said.

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