Japan and Canada signed an agreement Thursday that will let the Canadian Air Force planes refuel in Japan when participating in disaster relief and humanitarian missions in Asia.

The pact, signed by Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and counterpart Lawrence Cannon, allows Canada to use an airport in Hokkaido within 48 hours after applying for permission.

“Canada is an extremely important partner in this field. I am hoping this becomes the first step in further collaboration,” Nakasone told reporters.

Cannon, on a three-day visit to Japan, said the procedure will widen bilateral cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We will continue to look at ways together to cooperate notably in areas of peace and security,” he said.

The two sides also exchanged opinions on measures against H1N1 influenza A, saying that coordination is essential in dealing with the quickly spreading swine flu virus. Three Japanese students and a teacher became Japan’s first swine flu cases earlier this month after returning from a school trip to Canada.

Cannon told reporters that their countries will continue to exchange information “timely and in a systematic manner,” but repeated that other countries should not impose travel restrictions since the World Health Organization has been clear that the situation does not justify it.

During a separate speech at the Japan National Press Club, Cannon also pushed for an economic partnership agreement with Tokyo, saying free trade with Canada will not only strengthen the flow of goods and technology but also enhance energy, natural resources and food supplies in Japan.

Cannon also met with Prime Minister Taro Aso earlier in the day and discussed antiterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and North Korea’s nuclear threat.

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