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Japan and Mexico reached a final agreement Friday on a bilateral free-trade agreement, but postponed a decision on tariffs for some Mexican farm products.

Ending nearly 16 months of bitter negotiations, the two countries will aim to put the pact into effect in January, Japanese government officials said.

“I am positive that (the pact) will serve Japan’s national interest,” trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa told reporters after the agreement was made via a ministerial teleconference late Friday.

The conference included farm minister Yoshiyuki Kamei and Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, and Mexico’s agriculture secretary Javier Usabiaga and economy secretary Fernando Canales.

The deal would phase out barriers on certain Japanese exports to Mexico, and lower those on Mexican pork, chicken, beef, oranges and orange juice imports.

Japanese tariffs on three Mexican products — chicken, beef and oranges — will remain at zero for the first year or two within the annual low-tariff quota of 10 tons each. The quotas will be expanded after the transitional period. But the two sides postponed deciding on what the tariffs will be until after the transitional periods.

The tariffs on about 380 Mexican agricultural products will be eliminated.

The delay on the three Mexican items stems from Japanese officials’ fear that they might antagonize farm groups ahead of ongoing trade talks with Asian nations, a senior farm ministry official said.

“Lowering trade barriers even a notch is loaded with symbolic implications,” he said. “We do not know how many Mexican farm products will come into Japan, so we want to be careful before deciding on a rate.”

The sensitivity of even reform-minded government officials to farmers’ interests points to the long road still ahead before Japan’s farm market is opened.

Japan is currently in talks with Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea.

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