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Japan and Mexico made little headway toward signing a free-trade agreement during the latest round of talks that ended Friday in Tokyo.

No mention was made during the vice-ministerial talks on any of the main points of contention — pork, beef, chicken, oranges and orange juice.

“We’ve lost (the) rhythm we had, prior to (Mexican) President Vicente Fox’s state visit October,” said a Foreign Ministry official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Talks broke down just before the visit amid differences over the biggest bone of contention — pork.

No date has been set for the next round of talks. Negotiators merely promised to “keep in contact as necessary to help move talks forward” and to iron out as many technical and legal differences as possible.

Mexico’s agriculture minister, Javier Usabiaga, is scheduled to visit Japan next week. He is expected to meet agriculture minister Yoshiyuki Kamei to try to bridge the differences.

Mexico has been pushing for ways in which to expand its pork exports, which are mainly used in food processing industries and make up nearly half of Mexico’s agricultural exports to Japan.

Negotiations saw limited headway in removing Mexico’s tariffs on steel and automobile imports, as well.

“We’re still nine-tenths of the way to the top of the mountain,” said a Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry official. “The first path we tried was too difficult. Now we’re trying other approaches.”

Failure to reach an agreement with Mexico bodes ill for other FTA negotiations in progress.

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