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Japan will study the pros and cons of a free-trade agreement with the United States and is ready to restart FTA talks with South Korea, Cabinet ministers said Tuesday, a day after Washington and Seoul struck their own deal.

“We need to study advantages and problems (of an FTA with the U.S.) from the viewpoint of the entire people’s interests,” economic and fiscal policy minister Hiroko Ota said at a news conference.

Japanese and U.S. business groups have been seeking an FTA.

“We are ready to resume FTA negotiations (with Seoul), which have been put on hold since November 2004, at any time and will intensify our call on South Korea to restart the process at an early date,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said separately that Japan and South Korea must both make efforts to resume talks on an FTA. On an deal with the U.S., Abe said Japan has to study it as a future subject, while taking into account the size of the two economies.

Trade minister Akira Amari, however, was less upbeat about studying an FTA with the U.S., saying Japan should first focus on negotiations with Australia, whose first round is set to start in late April.

It will be difficult for Japan to enter FTA talks with the U.S., a big farming nation, unless Tokyo has a successful conclusion with negotiations with Australia over the politically sensitive agricultural area, Amari said.

Tokyo and Seoul suspended FTA talks because Japan refused to open its market for agricultural products as South Korea had demanded.

Both South Korea and Japan are net food importers and their farm sectors are sensitive areas for them. Seoul reached an FTA deal with the U.S. after 10 months of negotiations, but succeeded in excluding rice from its market opening.

For Japan, the liberalization of agricultural trade is considered a stumbling block to launching FTA negotiations with major farm exporters, including the U.S.

Ota said a government task force has been studying the feasibility of an FTA with the U.S. and will report its findings in the near future.

As for the impact of the U.S.-South Korea FTA, Ota said Japanese industries will not be damaged severely because Japan has an FTA with Mexico.

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