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Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Japan eyes trade with US, S Korea

AFP , TOKYO AND BANGKOK

Japan said yesterday that it would study a free-trade agreement with the US and aimed to restart trade talks with South Korea, a day after its two trading partners struck a landmark deal.

"We need to study the advantages and problems [of a Japan-US free trade agreement] from the point of view of all Japanese people," Japanese Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Hiroko Ota told reporters.

She said that the Japanese government was awaiting a report from experts on the issue before making a formal decision on whether to start negotiations.

Japanese business lobbies have urged trade talks with the US, but farmers are concerned about the impact on their business.

Japan also signalled its desire to breathe new life into moribund trade talks with South Korea, which on Monday reached a free trade agreement with the US that scraps tariffs on thousands of items.

"Japan has continuously appealed to South Korea to reopen negotiations, including at a summit level," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said.

"Japan would like to increase its efforts towards South Korea to reopen the [free-trade] negotiations as early as possible," he added.

Working-level talks between Tokyo and Seoul on a bilateral free trade pact have been suspended since November 2004, largely due to South Korea's demands that Japan open up 90 percent of its tightly protected agricultural market.

South Korea's agreement with the US gives its companies an edge in the US market over their Asian competitors in countries including Japan, China and Taiwan.

The trade deal is the biggest for the US since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 and its first with a major Asian economy, but needs legislative approval in both countries.

Separately, a small group of Thai activists yesterday rallied outside the Japanese embassy in Bangkok to protest against a free-trade deal, which leaders of the two countries were set to sign in Tokyo yesterday.

The demonstrators burned a mock Japan-Thailand free trade agreement document in front of the embassy and held a Thai-language banner that said "Free Trade Agreement with Japan is horrible. It only benefits Japan."

Under the agreement Japan and Thailand will lift tariffs on more than 90 percent of trade in 10 years, and Bangkok has vowed to step up transparency and legal protections to help Japanese investors.

But Thai activists have lashed out against the deal, saying that it would turn Thailand into a dumping ground for Japan's toxic waste.

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