October 10, 2003



Japan Attempt to Reach FTA With Mexico Could Open Up Its Agri Market


Japanese diplomats are pushing hard to reach basic agreement on a free-trade pact with Mexico before next week, when Vicente Fox, Mexico's president, arrives in Tokyo for an official visit.


Shoichi Nakagawa, trade minister, said on October 7 that Japan was considering new concessions to open up its agricultural market, the big stumbling block to a conclusion of talks. "We'll decide exactly what we can offer today or tomorrow," he said.


The free-trade agreement (FTA) with Mexico is seen as a dry run for similar accords with Asian neighbours, including South Korea, where access to Japan's market for agricultural products is a big issue. To conclude any accord, Japanese diplomats must face down their powerful domestic farm lobby, which has close links with the long-dominant Liberal Democratic party.


Hatsuhisa Takashima, a foreign ministry official, said: "We would like to see this resolved [since] this would open the way for future negotiations with other countries, such as South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand."


He added: "We are very serious about reaching this agreement ...This is the first major formal FTA with any country that has agricultural interests." Japan signed an FTA with Singapore last year, but the city state is not an important agricultural producer.


The big sticking point has been pork, of which Mexico is an important producer. Mexico is pushing for a tariff-free quota of pork imports, but officials from Japan's agricultural ministry have said that would be hard to accept.


Preliminary talks between Mexican and Japanese officials were restarted in Tokyo the day before ahead of a working-level meeting due to resume today.


Japanese officials have agreed upon the possibility that domestic opposition, particularly from agricultural interests, could scupper talks.

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