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Japan May Be Ready to Form Trade Group

January 07, 2002|Reuters

The Japanese government may be set to begin drafting an action plan to push for the signing of a comprehensive economic cooperation accord with Southeast Asian nations, including a free-trade agreement.

The development appears to be at least partly in response to a recent agreement between China and the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations for a free-trade area within 10 years, action that prompted speculation that Japan may be losing Asian influence to its giant neighbor.

The plan would aim at concluding the economic accord within five to 10 years, according to government sources quoted by the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi departs on a whirlwind tour of five ASEAN countriesWednesday, and he is expected to propose to their leaders that work on the action plan begin as early as the end of January.

The sources were quoted as saying that Japan hopes to win official approval for the plan at a Japan-ASEAN summit meeting scheduled to be held in Cambodia next autumn.

The action plan is expected to specify what areas the accord will cover, as well as lay down a timetable of negotiations, the Yomiuri said.

Japan also is hoping to include provisions to improve the investment environment between Tokyo and ASEAN as well as agreements on energy security and intellectual property rights.

Japan has been reluctant to embrace such a plan, which is likely to run into strong resistance from areas such as the nation's protected agriculture sector in the face of a possible flood of cheap Asian imports.

It has concluded only one free trade agreement, with Singapore, as the core of an accord signed in October.

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