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Japan, China, S. Korea trade ministers meet over quake, investment

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TOKYO, April 24 (PNA/Kyodo) -- The trade ministers of Japan, China and South Korea met Sunday in Tokyo for discussions on issues including the impact of Japan's March 11 killer earthquake and a trilateral pact currently under negotiation to facilitate investment.

At the outset of the meeting, Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda, who chaired the talks, thanked his two counterparts for supporting Japan's efforts to recover from the quake and contain the nuclear crisis, while stressing the importance of further enhancing economic exchanges between the three major Asian economies through trade and investment.

Japanese officials suggested earlier that Kaieda may also seek an easing of import restrictions on Japanese food items imposed by the two neighboring countries due to radiation fears.

The meeting is aimed at laying the groundwork for an upcoming two-day trilateral summit to be held in Tokyo from May 21, during which cooperation in ensuring disaster preparedness and safety of nuclear power generation will be high on the agenda.

Prior to the trilateral meeting, Kaieda met bilaterally with his South Korean counterpart Kim Jong Hoon, who expressed hope that Japan would quickly recover from the disaster and normalize its disrupted nationwide supply chains for industrial products, as well as with Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming.

The officials earlier said the three ministers are expected to exchange views over the investment treaty negotiations, which started in 2007 and are believed to be at the final stage, and an ongoing study to explore the possibility of signing a three-way free trade agreement.

The three countries are already bound to each other through bilateral investment treaties, but Japan is seeking a three-way accord that includes rules not stipulated in the bilateral Japan-China treaty, such as those on intellectual property protection.

Kaieda may also touch on the import restriction issue, given that the Japanese government is concerned by rumors about radiation contamination and is calling on other countries not to overreact to the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant by imposing what it calls "unjustifiable" import restrictions.

The Japanese government has said that it is taking every possible measure to make sure no contaminated farm products will be sold at home or abroad under its "stringent criteria," but many countries have set import restrictions or conducted radiation screening of Japanese imports.

China has officially banned food and agricultural imports from Fukushima, Tokyo and 10 other prefectures in Japan, and requires items from the prefectures other than the 12 to include documents issued by the Japanese government such as certificates for radiation inspection and places of origin.

But Japan has not finished preparations to start issuing such documents to China, a farm ministry official said Friday. Sources familiar with Sino-Japanese relations have described the situation as China effectively blocking all Japan-made food and farm products.

South Korea, meanwhile, has suspended imports of spinach and some other items from Fukushima and four other prefectures nearby, and plans to ask for similar government-issued radiation safety documentation from May 1 on imports of food from the five plus eight other prefectures, according to the Japanese farm ministry.

The trade ministers' gathering is part of a series of the trilateral meetings Japan is hosting this year.

About a week after the magnitude 9.0 quake, the foreign ministers of the three countries met in Kyoto and agreed to boost their cooperation in responding to disasters and securing the safety of nuclear power generation.

The three-way annual summit, which was launched in 2008, is aimed at promoting cooperation among the three major Asian economies in 13 areas including trade, energy, environment, tourism, technology, logistics, health and disaster preparedness. (PNA/Kyodo)

By Miya Tanaka




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