• Staff report

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Japan is positive about starting official negotiations on bilateral free-trade agreements with the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will hold talks later this week with the leaders of the three countries, who are visiting Japan to attend a private seminar.

“We’re discussing the matter within the government and I think we will have to move things in that direction,” Fukuda told a regularly scheduled news conference, responding to a question about whether the government is ready to start formal FTA negotiations.

The government has already set up working groups with each of the three countries to study the feasibility of signing trade deals with them. Among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Singapore is the only country that has so far concluded an FTA with Japan.

“We have an FTA with Singapore, but that’s not the end of the story,” Fukuda said. “We have to talk positively with other relevant countries.”

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