Australia and Japan have agreed to forge closer economic links, discuss free trade and strengthen regional security, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Prime Minister John Howard said in a joint statement. Japan is Australia's biggest export market and trade between the two countries is worth some US$21.5 billion, with Australia carrying a US$4.8 billion surplus. "The relationship between Australia and Japan is a very important one," Howard told reporters after meeting Koizumi during his first visit to Australia as prime minister. "We agreed that a free-trade agreement was a desirable goal. It will take some time and it will not be easy," he said. Australia wants Japan to remove tariffs on agriculture, including a 38.5 percent levy on beef, and stop government support to Japanese farmers, something Koizumi said was not "insurmountable."
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