SINGAPORE – Australia’s trade minister said he’s ready to strike a free trade deal with Japan in April when Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to visit Tokyo, according to a Liberal Democratic Party member active in trade matters.
Koya Nishikawa and Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb met Monday in Singapore for talks related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Nishikawa, a Lower House member who heads the LDP’s committee on the TPP, said afterward that Robb showed readiness to reduce auto tariffs, while calling on Japan to cut duties on farm products.
Nishikawa declined to give any further details.
According to negotiation sources, Australia is asking Japan to cut tariffs on beef, which are currently set at 38.5 percent. Japan wants Australia to scrap its 5 percent tariff on Japanese automobiles.
Japan and Australia launched the FTA negotiations in April 2007, but the effort has been stalled by differences over tariffs. They renewed their commitment to accelerating FTA talks after Australia’s change of government in September.
According to Nishikawa, the Australian side wants to have the FTA completely wrapped up by July when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to visit Canberra.
The bilateral effort comes as 12 Pacific-Rim countries, including Australia and Japan, struggle to reach a deal on the TPP amid differences between Tokyo and Washington.
Japan may be hoping that by reaching a deal with Australia, it will make the U.S. look intransigent and thereby embarrass Washington into making concessions.
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