Japan signaled yesterday it is ready to make painful concessions at a World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong next week to help break the deadlock in talks on a global free-trade pact.
While keeping in mind Japan's national interests, "we must be prepared to accept considerable pains," Toshihiko Nikai, minister of economy, trade and industry, told reporters.
He did not specify on which areas Japan would be willing to make concessions at the December 13-18 talks in Hong Kong.
Separately, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi instructed Nikai and agriculture minister Shoichi Nakagawa to adopt a policy of "making concessions in what we can, and protecting what we should protect," Jiji Press reported.
Japan, renowned for its strong support for its farming industry, is firmly opposed to introducing tariff caps in agricultural trade, a move sought by major farm-product exporter countries.
In non-agricultural products Japan advocates free trade and seeks more transparency in taking anti-dumping measures.
The nation's largest business lobby Japan Business Federation is urging its government to make concessions on the thorny issue of agriculture to help progress although hopes of a deal this month have faded considerably.
The December ministerial meeting of 148 WTO members in Hong Kong was meant to set the seal on four years of talks in the Qatari capital Doha that aim to deliver a comprehensive free trade accord by 2006.
But in recent weeks members of the WTO have resigned themselves to watered down goals in the face of persistent disagreement on two critical issues - the extent of cuts in import tariffs and government support for agriculture and the opening of industrial markets.