Free trade talks between Japan and Australia ended with no breakthrough on Thursday, with Tokyo keen to protect its heavily subsidised farm sector.
“We’ll be working hard… over the coming weeks and months,” Australian Ambassador to Japan Murray Mclean told reporters after the four-day talks at the Japanese foreign ministry, according to Kyodo news agency.
January Adams, Australia’s first assistant secretary of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, refused to comment on the outcome of the first free-trade negotiations since April last year.
The next round will be held in Canberra in around April, the ministry said in a press release.
The two sides had “useful discussions” on wide-ranging areas including trade in goods and services, investment, government procurement, energy/mineral resources and food supplies, the statement 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.