Koizumi eyes Japan-Australia free trade
Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE
"Koizumi eyes Japan-Australia free trade"
The article, written just before Japanese Prime Minister's arrival in Australia, speculates that Mr. Koizumi is going to suggest a kickoff of formal talks for a free trade agreement between the two countries. So he did, according to the latest reports, and Prime Ministers Koizumi and Howard have agreed to setup a bilateral framework at senior levels to aim for such an agreement.
It used to be the policy of Japan not to ally with any specific country in terms of trade relationship and leave it to the negotiations and agreements established in a multilateral arena such as WTO.
The policy was repealed a few years ago for various reasons, and Japan began to seek for bilateral trade agreements with a number of countries. The first to bear fruit was the free trade agreement with Singapore signed earlier this year. At the time it was announced there were negotiations under way at various levels and stages with other countries as well. And it was no secret one of them was with Australia.
As Japan being the largest importer for Australian goods, it is naturally important for and will benefit Australia to strengthen economic ties with Japan. Accordingly, virtually every statement released in Australia welcomes this new development. And as a country necessary to trade to survive, it should certainly benefit Japan as well. It would, however, require a lot of discussion and patience for this sort of agreement to conclude successfully, and the largest obstacle foreseen at this point is the level and the timing for Japan to liberalize its import of agricultural products. The article cited here warns that "Japan's powerful protectionist farm lobby has long been a barrier to negotiations on free trade." Apparently this view is shared by some Australians as well, as an Australian media has said that "Japanese farm lobby and protectionism are insurmountable".
There is another factor that may raise concerns. It is the underlining bitterness among Australians toward Japan, or more precisely, toward the act of Japanese forces during WWII. It was only very recently that Treasurer Mr. Costello was reported to have made a remark at a gathering that "the memories are still fresh of Japanese atrocities (during WWII)". It is not so commendable for a senior government official to express such a thing in public, and it is unwise to be oversensitive to these statements. Benefits out of a productive trade agreement far surpass whatever could possibly be obtained through exchange of harsh words.