Australia, Japan free trade talks set down for April

AUSTRALIA is a step closer to a bilateral free trade agreement with Japan after governments from both countries agreed to start first round negotiations in Canberra next month. Trade Minister Warren Truss said the discussions, to be held on April 23 and 24, would most likely focus on procedures and the framework for future talks. “Japan is a key partner for Australia and by far our biggest export market,” Mr Truss said. “Concluding an FTA that delivers real commercial benefits will be a challenge, but like the commerce agreement negotiated with Japan 50 years ago, we can expect an FTA to deliver big gains to both countries.” Austrade chief economist Tim Harcourt said business awareness of the FTA negotiations with Japan needed to increase. “Japan is still Australia’s number one export destination, and even with the amazing rise of China it will continue to be an important economic partner for Australia and a key global economic player – particularly in the Asia Pacific region,” he said. Mr Harcourt said Japan’s economy was in a growth phase and experiencing its longest uninterrupted expansion in 40 years. “In the December quarter, Japan grew by a strong 1.3 per cent, (or 2.5 per cent annually over the same quarter in the previous year) with employment and business sentiment gaining momentum. With the end of deflation, export-led growth and stronger local confidence, Japan is officially back in the game,” he said. 

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