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Japan and the oil-producing countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council began official negotiations Thursday in Tokyo on a free-trade agreement.

Among items on the agenda for the first round of talks through Friday are tariffs reductions, liberalization of services trade and investment. The GCC is a group of six Middle Eastern oil-producers — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

Japan is represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka, while Hamad Bin Sulayman al-Bazai, deputy minister for economic affairs at Saudi Arabia’s Finance Ministry, heads the GCC delegation.

At the outset of the meeting, Yabunaka said he expects “very substantive progress in this first formal meeting.”

In 2005, Japan depended on the GCC countries for about 75 percent of its crude oil imports.

The regional organization, established in 1981, has a 5 percent common external tariff.

Tokyo aims to secure a stable energy supply from the oil-producers and hopes a free-trade pact will help strengthen ties, according to government sources.

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