• Kyodo

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Trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa came close Sunday to a basic agreement with Thailand on a bilateral free-trade accord during Cabinet-level talks.

Nakagawa wrapped up the day’s meetings with Somkid Jatusripitak, Thailand’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, and Commerce Minister Thanong Bidaya, without a deal, but the negotiations were to continue Monday, officials said.

Nearly six hours after the talks started, Nakagawa told reporters they were within “a few meters” of the finish line.

A Thai official said the talks were “99 percent over.” The two sides forged agreements on steel and farm trade, and automobiles remained as the only stumbling block, he said.

Thailand has declined to remove tariffs on luxury cars by 2010. It wants to keep high tariffs on Japanese luxury cars for another seven years, according to a Thai negotiator.

Pinit Korsieporn, deputy secretary general of Thailand’s Office of Agriculture Economics, said that prior to the latest talks, Japan was declining to give Thailand concessions for raw sugar, canned pineapple, tuna and other farm products similar to those given to Mexico.

Japan is Thailand’s largest trading partner, with some 20 percent growth annually.

Last year, Thai exports to Japan totaled $13.49 billion while its imports from Japan came to $22.29 billion, recording a deficit of $8.79 billion, according to official Thai statistics.

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