Australian prime minister John Howard said Wednesday Japan has agreed to place agriculture on the table during talks on a free trade agreement analysts believe could boost the two economies by more than 60 billion Australian dollars over the next 20 years.
Howard said he and his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, had agreed to start formal negotiations on a free trade pact early next year, but no deadline had been set for concluding the deal.
“We have agreed that everything will be on the table, including agriculture,” Howard told reporters in Sydney. “We recognise that that’s very sensitive for the Japanese.”
If successful, the Australia-Japan FTA would be the Asian nation’s first such agreement with a major exporter of farm products, a highly sensitive area Japan has so far largely avoided in other free trade agreements in other countries.
Japan has been Australia’s largest trading partner for the past 40 years, and is already its number one market for beef, dairy products, fish, canola and other agricultural products.
Australia’s trade minister Warren Truss welcomed the news, but warned the talks will be tough.
“Negotiations will be challenging, given both sides’ sensitivities, but we will look to cement our excellent existing relationship and create real opportunities,” Truss said in a statement.
Confirming the deal late Tuesday December 12, Abe said Japan would pay “careful attention” to the impact of any agreement on Japan’s agriculture sector, saying he would not commit to any deal that did not benefit Japan.
“There would be no point to an agreement unless it brings benefits for both sides,” he added.
Informal talks on a possible Australia-Japan FTA have been under way since April 2005, when economic modelling released by both governments showed that a free trade deal could boost Australia’s economy by A$39 billion (US$30.7 billion, €23.18 billion) over two decades and Japan’s economy by AU$27 billion (US$21 billion, €15.86 billion)over the same period.