Japan, Canada Hold First Round of FTA Negotiations

Japan, Canada Hold First Round of FTA Negotiations

Japan and Canada wrapped up their first round of negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement aimed at eliminating import tariffs on most products and strengthening overall economic relations, the Japanese government announced on Friday.

The Japanese delegation to the first round, held in Tokyo this week, was led by Jun Yokota, ambassador in charge of economic diplomacy, while the Canadian team was headed by Ian Burney, the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Department’s assistant deputy minister for trade policy and negotiations.

During their five-day talks, the Japanese and Canadian officials discussed how to proceed with future negotiations and issues in a wide range of areas, the Japanese government said in a statement. The second round of negotiations is scheduled to be held in Ottawa around next April, the Japanese government said.

This week’s meeting came eight months after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper agreed at a meeting in Tokyo to launch bilateral FTA negotiations.

According to Japanese government figures, Japan exported 709 billion yen ($8.5 billion) worth of products to Canada and imported 1.031 trillion yen ($12.4 billion) worth of goods from the North American country in 2011.

Japan’s main export items to Canada are autos and auto parts, general machinery and electronics goods, while its main import items from Canada are mineral fuels, agricultural products and forestry products.

In the FTA negotiations, Tokyo is expected to call for the abolition of Canadian import tariffs on Japanese autos, among other products, while Ottawa is expected to demand the elimination of Japanese import tariffs on Canadian farm products.

Through the trade pact with resource-rich Canada, Japan also wants to ensure stable supplies of resources, especially natural gas. Resource-poor Japan imports almost all of its natural gas as well as crude oil.

Japan imports natural gas in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and is by far the world’s largest LNG importer. Demand for LNG has been rising sharply in Japan as an alternative fuel to atomic power in the wake of last year’s nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The U.S., Canada and Mexico are the partners of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). An FTA with Canada would be Japan’s first with one of the Group of Eight (G8) major countries — the U.S., Canada, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia.

Japan has so far seen its FTAs with 12 countries — Singapore, Mexico, Malaysia, Chile, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Switzerland, Vietnam, India and Peru — and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a whole going into effect.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.