Japan and Australia will hold a ministerial meeting Wednesday on sealing a bilateral free trade pact, accelerating efforts to reach an accord possibly in April when leaders from the two countries are slated to hold a summit in Tokyo, the Cabinet Office said Monday.
Australian Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb will meet with economic and fiscal policy minister Akira Amari in Tokyo, the office said. Robb is also expected to hold talks with farm minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.
The key to successfully concluding 7-year-old negotiations is whether Tokyo and Canberra can come to terms with each other on tariff elimination over farm products and automobiles, according to negotiation sources.
Australia has called on Japan to reduce tariffs on beef, one of its main export items to Japan.
Japan, for its part, wants Australia to abolish its 5 percent auto tariff, which might be more acceptable for Canberra now as major automakers have decided to end production in the country in the near future, reducing the need for the country to protect its domestic industry.
If a deal is successfully achieved, Australia will become the first major farm exporter to strike an FTA with Japan, which has been reluctant to open up its agricultural market for fear that an influx of cheaper imports could damage domestic farmers.
Robb has expressed hope of having a free trade pact signed in July, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to visit Australia and meet with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Tokyo and Canberra are accelerating two-way free trade talks at a time when the broader Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, which also involve the United States, New Zealand and Canada, have been stalled.