Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is currently in Japan at the forefront of a business mission which aims to complete a free trade agreement between the two nations. Abbott, leading a party of more than 600 Australian ministers and business leaders, will be having summit meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Monday after an official welcoming ceremony with Japan’s agriculture and trade ministers.
Japan is one of Australia’s biggest trading partners, with the third-largest economy in the world currently a major customer of Australian beef and farm goods. Abbott said on Sunday that there were some issues that need to be resolved with Tokyo on trade, specifically ones on the tariffs on beef exports from Australia and car exports from Japan. Both countries have been quietly confident that an agreement may be reached. “I am hopeful but not certain,” said Abbott. “There are still some final matters to be resolved and while we do want a swift conclusion, we want a satisfactory conclusion as well.”
Free trade with Japan has always been a tricky issue, and it is proving the same for Australia as it is with the United States, especially with the latter pushing tariff liberalization on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations. Agricultural products have been traditionally protected in Japan by high tariffs – in Australia’s case, beef. The agricultural sector in Japan has always been strong and influential, with most political parties bowing to their demands as well as courting their votes and support come election time. This is why Abe has had a difficult time negotiating free trade with Australia and the US, because Japan’s farmers have voiced out their disagreement to free trade. The same is true with the auto industry, another point of argument in the Australian free trade negotiations. It will be interesting to see the result of this week’s intense round of negotiations between Japan, Australia, and the US, especially as the powerful farmer cooperatives flex their considerable muscles in Tokyo.
[via The Republic]