Japan wants new free trade pacts: PM

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Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Saturday vowed to join the race to conclude new bilateral and regional trade pacts, saying that the country needed to further open up to the world.

In a speech outlining his vision to business leaders gathered in Davos, Kan said Japan had lagged behind and it was time for talks with the European Union on a free trade agreement as well as to join a Pacific trade pact.

The Japanese PM also stressed the importance of the Asian state's alliance with the United States in maintaining the stability of the region.

However, he steered clear of mentioning the country's crippling debt, which prompted a credit rating downgrade this week by agency Standard & Poor's and which sent the yen plunging.

"Japan has, for the past ten years, been virtually at a standstill while a number of countries promoted bilateral and intra-regional economic partnerships," he noted.

The country now wants to forge ahead with discussions for the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership, and will decide by June on whether to join formal negotiations, he said.

"We also very much look forward to beginning negotiations this year with the EU, another important trade partner for Japan," he added.

Japan's move to push for an EU trade pact was prompted by South Korea's success in securing a free trade deal with the 27-member bloc last year.

The South Korean pact had fuelled fears in Japan that domestic companies would lose out in competitiveness to their South Korean rival.

The prime minister also touched on geopolitical stability, stressing that the Japan-US alliance "is becoming even more important."

"Together with the United States, Japan would like to contribute to peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region and we would like to play this solid role," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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