Japan will hold free-trade talks with Australia next week, the government said Monday as it resumes the stalled negotiation amid concerns over its heavily protected farm sector.
Officials from Japan and Australia will hold talks in Tokyo for four days from February 7, which will be the first negotiation since April last year, the Japanese foreign ministry said.
The two countries held their first round of talks in Canberra in 2007, seeking to reach what would be Japan’s first free-trade agreement with a major agricultural exporter.
Prime minister Naoto Kan has made trade one of his priorities and the government is considering whether to enter into discussions on joining a trans-Pacific free trade pact that would require Japan to tear down the barriers surrounding its faltering economy.
Japan, citing food-security and cultural reasons, has long protected its now highly inefficient rice farmers against imports of cheaper grain from big producers such as the United States, Australia and Vietnam.
It has slapped a near 800 percent tariff on imported rice and up to 250 percent on wheat imports.
The agricultural ministry has warned that domestic production of wheat, sugar, dairy products and beef — four major Australian products — would be seriously damaged if tariffs were eliminated.
However, Japan is heavily dependent on imports for its energy needs and a free trade deal could help it secure easier access to Australia’s vast supplies, most notably uranium for use in nuclear power generation.
Participants in the 12th round of talks will include Shinichi Nishimiya, Japan’s deputy foreign minister in charge of economic issues, and January Adams, first assistant secretary of Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Department.
Kan has pitched for free trade accords, arguing the nation’s ageing, shrinking farm industry should not be afraid of imports but needs to be on the offensive by promoting exports of high-quality products.
Japan will hold free-trade talks with Australia next week, the government said Monday as it resumes the stalled negotiation amid concerns over its heavily protected farm sector. (AFP)