• Kyodo News

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Japan and Switzerland opened talks Monday on a bilateral free-trade agreement, marking Japan’s first attempt to conclude an FTA with a European country.

The Tokyo talks are scheduled to run five days, with the two sides seeking steps to facilitate trade in goods and services, increase mutual investment and better protect intellectual property rights, Japanese officials said.

Jun Yokota, Japan’s chief negotiator and ambassador for international trade and economic affairs, said at the outset of the meeting Japan is “very interested in entering this uncharted territory” of striking an FTA with a European country.

Luzius Wasescha, who heads the Swiss delegation, expressed hope the envisioned accord will not merely serve “as a useful tool to enhance the competitiveness of our respective economies but as a building block for bringing economic relations between Europe and Asia to a new level.”

“We all share a common understanding that we should aim for a conclusion of our negotiations within about a year from now,” said Wasescha, who is also Switzerland’s permanent representative to the World Trade Organization.

If an FTA is concluded, it will open the way for Japanese manufacturers of digital cameras and home appliances to boost exports to Switzerland. Similarly, Japanese imports of Swiss watches and pharmaceutical products would grow.

The agreement to start the negotiations was reached in January.

Japan has so far concluded an FTA with Singapore, Mexico, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Chile, and has reached basic agreements with Indonesia and Brunei. It has also recently launched FTA negotiations with Australia.

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