• Kyodo

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Japan and the Philippines decided Wednesday to further flesh out a proposed bilateral free-trade agreement under an expanded framework, Japanese and Philippine officials said.

The new Joint Coordinating Team for the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement will bring together delegates from government, industry and academia. It will meet three times before team members report to their leaders in December, the officials said.

They said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Philippine President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo may agree to enter into formal FTA negotiations after their bilateral summit to be held in Tokyo in December.

Arroyo is likely to visit Tokyo for a two-day special summit between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations beginning Dec. 11.

The new team will succeed an official Japan-Philippines working group that held talks five times between last October and Wednesday.

During the five rounds of sessions, Manila called on Tokyo to allow Filipino professionals, including nurses and other caregivers, to work in Japan.

The Philippines also asked Japan to loosen sanitary and phytosanitary measures. The Philippines claims such measures impede its agricultural exports to Japan.

Japan meanwhile demanded that the Philippines lower tariffs on some imported industrial products, including automobiles, liberalize the investment and services sectors and improve the overall business environment.