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Japan and Chile began the first meeting in Tokyo on Monday of a joint study group to explore the feasibility of launching formal free-trade negotiations, government officials said.

The two-day meeting involves working-level government officials, business leaders and academics. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Chilean President Ricardo Lagos agreed in November to establish the panel.

Participants are expected to discuss the scope of the panel’s tasks and analyze current trends in bilateral trade and investment, the officials said.

Japan has concluded free-trade pacts with Singapore and Mexico. It reached a basic agreement with the Philippines in November and has been in FTA talks with Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand.

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