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Japan and Australia agreed Thursday to pay close attention to Tokyo’s politically sensitive agricultural issues when they advance talks for a bilateral free-trade agreement, the next round of which is slated for late July.

During a meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in Tokyo, Akira Amari, minister of economy, trade and industry, asked Australia to take sensitive agricultural issues into consideration and Downer said he was well aware of Japan’s concerns, a trade ministry official in Tokyo said.

The two countries are scheduled to hold a second round of FTA negotiations in Tokyo in late July, when they are expected to start discussions on specific areas and issues. Agriculture is seen as a major stumbling block as Japanese agricultural lobbies oppose the inclusion of rice, wheat and dairy products in a deal with the major farming nation.

Amari told Downer that Japan wants an FTA that stipulates liberalization of trade in goods and services, bilateral cooperation in investment and the protection of intellectual property, and contains a clause that ensures a stable supply of energy to Japan, the official said.

Downer was quoted as saying Australia is also seeking to draw up a comprehensive FTA with Japan. He added that the two sides would be able to reach a deal after fully discussing Japan’s agricultural issues.

Japan relies on Australia for 10 percent of its food needs, including half of its beef requirements and one-third of its cheese.

Separately, Amari and Downer agreed on the importance of maintaining U.S. interests in Asia and the Pacific through vehicles such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which Australia is chairing this year, according to the official.

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