Australia eyes concluding FTA with Japan in April

Australia's trade minister on Monday expressed his readiness to strike a free trade deal with Japan in April and have it signed in July, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to visit Canberra, according to a Japanese ruling party lawmaker.

Koya Nishikawa and Australian Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb, who are both currently in Singapore for a ministerial meeting related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, met and discussed trade-related issues.

The momentum for striking a Japan-Australia free trade deal has been picking up toward April, when Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to visit Tokyo.

Nishikawa, a House of Representatives member who heads the Liberal Democratic Party's TPP committee, also told reporters after the meeting that Robb showed readiness to reduce auto tariffs, while calling on Japan to cut duties on farm products.

Nishikawa declined to comment on details.

According to negotiation sources, Australia is asking Japan to cut tariffs on beef, which is currently subject to 38.5 percent tariff. Japan wants Australia to scrap 5 percent tariff on Japanese automobiles.

Japan and Australia launched FTA negotiations in April 2007, but the talks have been stalled due to differences over how to deal with tariffs on products such as automobiles and beef. The two countries renewed their commitment to accelerating FTA talks after Australia's change of government in September.

The move to promote bilateral FTA talks comes as 12 Pacific-Rim countries, including Australia and Japan, are struggling to strike a TPP deal amid differences between Tokyo and Washington.

Japan apparently hopes to draw a concession from the United States, which wants Tokyo to scrap tariffs on farm products including beef, in the TPP talks by showing that bilateral FTA negotiations with Australia are well advanced.