• Kyodo

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Ministers and senior trade officials from seven Asian economies agreed Sunday that they should aim for a preliminary accord on nonfarm trade liberalization under the World Trade Organization by the end of July, trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa said.

In a one-day, informal session held in Chiba, host Japan and six other WTO member economies — China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand — confirmed they should try to strike a broad agreement by July on ways to reduce tariffs on items such as industrial goods and fisheries with some numerical goals, he said.

“It was really significant for the Asian economies to get together and frankly exchange views on this matter,” Nakagawa, minister of economy, trade and industry and chairman of the meeting, told a news conference at the end of the talks. “As members of the same region, we agreed to cooperate with each other for the success of a WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong” scheduled for December.

Stefan Johannesson of Iceland, chairman of the WTO’s Negotiating Group of Non-Agricultural Market Access, also attended the session.

Nakagawa said participants backed the personal summary he presented at the session. In the paper, he noted a formula for cutting tariffs on nonfarm items should be “such that higher tariffs are subjected to higher rate of reduction.”

He also said in the summary that participants from Asian developing countries agreed they should reduce the number of items that can be protected with unbound tariffs, or tariffs without upper limits.

A Japanese trade ministry official said it was a step forward for Asia’s developing countries to support such conditions.

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