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Japan and Uzbekistan agreed Monday to step up cooperation over the development of strategic natural resources, including uranium and rare earth minerals, a Japanese trade official said.

Under a memorandum signed between Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda and Uzbek Minister of Foreign Economic Relations, Investments and Trade Galina Saidova, the two countries also agreed to further enhance trade and investment.

To keep bilateral economic ties afloat, the memorandum also spelled out the establishment of a working group to address issues related to trade, investment and the business environment.

The agreement was reached just before Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s visit to Japan from Tuesday. The president is expected to meet Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Wednesday.

Strengthening ties with Uzbekistan is vital for resource-poor Japan because the country is known as a major producer and holder of uranium, rare metals and other key resources.

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