Japan, Mexico split over farm products in free-trade talks before summit
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
"Japan, Mexico split over farm products in free-trade talks before summit"
(AP) San Francisco Chronicle
"Free Trade Agreement With Japan"
The Korea Times
Mexican President Vicente Fox is scheduled to make a state visit Japan on 15th and stay for the rest of the week. Many formal events are planned during his stay including a banquet at the Imperial Palace hosted by the Emperor, which is an ancient, but necessary and perhaps even an effective procedure to pay respect to sovereignty and its people. But from a practical business point of view, the focus is a formal discussion on FTA with Prime Minister Koizumi.
It has been quite a while since Mexico originally approached Japan to begin discussions an FTA. Japan's government, at the time, sneered at it, and said arrogantly that Japan was opting for the WTO to play an active role in liberalizing global trade, and as such, they see no merit in forming a close tie through FTA with such country as Mexico, which would have to, even without an FTA, seek investment and import from a rich and advanced country like Japan.
As talks at WTO effectively halted, though, Japan suddenly found itself alone, detached from the enormous web of FTA arrangements covering the globe. There may have been a good reason, even if it had derived from too optimistic a thought, that the WTO should keep playing the leading role in liberalizing global trade. But it has not performed the role at the level and speed many, including Japan, had hoped it would. And Japan, as it seems always, all the while had not made any contingency plans to cope with a situation where the WTO would, even temporarily, fail.
Actually, Japan was not the only one. Among the significant players in global economy, China and Korea were adopting similar policies, of not acknowledging the fact that FTAs, however flowed in concept and they might be, were what many countries were beginning to utilize as the means to achieve their policy objectives.
China apparently realized this a few years ago, and drastically changed its policy and began to approach ASEAN to conclude an FTA, to form a large economic zone for the benefit of its members, and, if a number of commentaries written in various ASEAN countries have certain degrees of truths in them, to seek economic hegemony of the region.
Some in Japan realized it was necessary to seek FTAs almost ten years ago, and the view seems to have finally gained a majority very recently. But it may be a little too late, as opposition groups, headed by farmers and other vested interests have already built a fortress against any bit of relaxing import of farm and related produces.
Korea seems to be still somewhat skeptical on this issue with its own problems, as the latter half of the editorial of a Korean paper introduced above show, but obviously it does not mean that Japan could stand still.
President Fox, so as not to lose face of both the President and the Prime Minister, courteously commented last week that he does not consider it mandatory to conclude the FTA talks with Japan upon his visit this week, and that it is more important to formulate a good agreement rather one done in haste. But everyone recognizes this to be a diplomatically accepted way of saying, "do something to make my visit look meaningful!"
It has been reported since that a ministerial level discussion has started over the weekend between the two countries. But one of the concern is the minister who is supposed to play the leading role is Mr Nakagawa who heads the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. He is not only new, appointed just two weeks ago, but he has been considered to be a leading proponent of conservative farmers, saying that any import of farm produce must be stopped at any cost.
In effect, this will be a good opportunity to test Mr Nakagawa's principles, and abilities as a legislator to function for the good of Japan and its people as a whole.