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Japan seeks free trade deals with China
Updated: 2006-01-03 11:15

Japan is likely to pursue free-trade agreements with China and India as well as Australia to give it more clout in a proposed East Asian community, a leading Japanese daily reported on Tuesday.

Japan has been stepping up its pursuit of free-trade agreements (FTAs) but has signed only three to date. Many of the negotiations have faced difficulties because of Japan's highly protected agriculture sector.

The agreements are likely to be one part of a global economic strategy the Japanese government is expected to finalize around March, the Japanese daily Mainichi Shimbun said.

According to the paper, Japan plans to start FTA negotiations with India and Australia in 2007, and with China in 2009. It might also negotiate a trilateral deal with China and South Korea.

Government officials were not available to comment on the report.

The trade agreements with India and Australia would be an effort to counter the influence of China in a proposed East Asian community, one of the issues discussed at a meeting of East Asian leaders held in Malaysia last month, the Mainichi said.

Japan favors the inclusion of India and Australia in such a community, while other East Asian nations oppose the idea, saying that neither nation belongs to East Asia geographically.

Japan's most recent FTA was signed with Malaysia last month.

In December, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Southeast Asian leaders reaffirmed efforts to conclude talks on a free-trade pact between Japan and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations by April 2007.

Tokyo has already reached a basic deal on a free-trade pact with the Philippines and Thailand, and is working toward one with Indonesia. It has agreed to start talks toward trade agreements with Brunei and Vietnam.

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