Suddenly, free trade agreements are all the rage in Japan. \nBefore a pact with Mexico last month, Japan had signed just one trade agreement, with Singapore in 2001. But by year's end it hopes to wrap up talks with Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines. \nIt also wants a trade deal with South Korea next year and has begun negotiating with Indonesia. \nAfter years of sparring between farmers who want to keep cheap foreign produce out and industrialists eager to export more, free traders appear to be gaining the upper hand in a country with a long history of erecting walls around its markets. \nToyota Chairman Hiroshi Okuda, who also heads Japan's most powerful business lobby, said he was "extremely delighted" by Japan's deal to liberalize trade with Mexico. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hailed the pact as "very meaningful." \nFew expect the haggling over how open Japan will be to Thai rice or South Korean beef to be easy. Japan is home to 2 million-plus politically influential farmers keen on protecting their livelihoods. \nBut a realization is spreading that Japan needs to break down trade barriers to keep with the times. \nThe biggest reason for the shift is China, which has already signed free trade pacts with 10 countries in Southeast Asia -- including some of Japan's most important trading partners. At stake is Japan's influence, or even relevance, as an economic power. \n"The fear of being left behind, of `missing the bus,' has really accelerated the process," said Toshiya Tsugami, a senior fellow at REITI, a government-funded think tank. "The signing of free trade agreements between China and the ASEAN countries was a big shock." \nBy concluding individual free trade deals with all of the countries in the ASEAN by 2010, Japan hopes to directly counter the China challenge. \nThe prime minister's office says a free trade pact with ASEAN would add as much as ?2 trillion (US$18 billion) to Japan's economic output and create as many as 260,000 jobs. \nChina, however, already has a headstart. It launched its free trade zone with ASEAN this year and by 2010, the two sides are due to eliminate nearly all tariffs on goods and liberalize trade in services. \nAs long as Japanese goods are slapped with high tariffs in Southeast Asia, the costs of products assembled in local factories from parts made in Japan will stay high, making them less competitive. In response, manufacturers would shift more production out of Japan, adding to the deterioration of Japan's manufacturing base, said Tsugami. \nKoizumi has been listening to such warnings. \nHis Liberal Democratic Party, long the bastion of farmer-coddling lawmakers, last year established a committee to promote free trade agreements. The prime minister also convened his first Cabinet meeting on free trade this week. \n"The government and the ruling party have become much more forward-looking about the importance of free trade to Japan," said Keiichi Nagamatsu, managing director of Nippon Keidanren, the lobby headed by Okuda. \nNagamatsu said Tokyo should eventually try to sign a pact with Beijing, given the close economic ties between the countries. Beyond simply being a regional rival, China is Japan's second-largest export market after the US and its largest source of imports. \nOf course, enthusiasm alone will not ensure Japan's free trade negotiations go smoothly.
SELF-SUFFICIENCY: Alibaba is one of a number of Chinese firms that has answered Beijing’s call to invest in the development of cutting-edge technologies Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) yesterday unveiled a new server chip that is based on advanced 5-nanometer technology, marking a milestone in China’s pursuit of semiconductor self-sufficiency. The Chinese tech giant’s newest chip is based on micro-architecture provided by the SoftBank Group Corp-owned Arm Ltd, it said. Alibaba, which is holding its annual cloud summit in Hangzhou, China, said that the chip is to be used in its own data centers in the “near future” and would not, for the time being, be sold commercially. “Customizing our own server chips is consistent with our ongoing efforts toward boosting our computing capabilities with better
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AGGRESSIVE STEP: With the new processors, Apple is aiming at the high-end chips Intel has provided for the MacBook Pro and other top-end Macs for about 15 years Apple Inc on Monday took the most aggressive step yet to strip Intel Corp chips from its computers, announcing more powerful homegrown Mac processors alongside a total revamp of its MacBook Pro laptop computers. The company showcased the chips at an event called “Unleashed,” which also included its latest audio products. The new components, called the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, are 70 percent faster than its M1 predecessors, Apple said. It also unveiled a redesigned MacBook Pro, adding larger screens, MagSafe charging and better resolution. With the new processors and devices, Apple is aiming squarely at the high-end chips that Intel has
PRICE SPREAD: Oil trading under the Brent futures contract is giving the US a hefty edge in pricing, increasing the rush to secure cheap fuel as winter approaches Asian demand for US oil is rising as the energy crisis boosts prices for other crudes that are priced against the global Brent futures contract. China and other Asian buyers have been snapping up supertankers of US oil for delivery next month and seeking more for December, some traders have said. Most buyers are seeking US grades that had recently slumped to the lowest levels in more than a year, with an added incentive after Beijing awarded millions of tonnes of crude oil import quotas. A wide spread between Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil futures is accommodating higher US crude