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Japanese PM To Discuss Trade, Defense With Australia

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits Australia Wednesday to discuss a range of issues including trade and defense. It is the first visit by a Japanese prime minister to Australia in five years.

Japan is Australia's largest trading partner. Mr. Koizumi's visit raises the issue of making commerce between the two countries flow without restraint. Any formal free trade agreement, however, is likely to exclude the thorny issue of agriculture - at least in the short term. That will upset many of Australia's farmers, who are kept out of Japan's lucrative market by high tariffs and a tough regulatory regime.

Australia's Trade Minister Mark Vaile has said a free trade pact would only work if the powerful Japanese farming lobby supports dismantling barriers. That is unlikely to happen. Indeed, Australian Prime Minister John Howard consistently refers to closer trade relations with Japan rather than a free trade agreement.

A report commissioned by the Howard government last year suggests Australia has little to gain if farming is left out of a deal. In turn, Japan will not benefit unless Australia lowers tariffs on textiles, clothing and footwear.

Defense is also on the agenda during Mr. Koizumi's visit. Japan's peacekeeping role in East Timor encouraged Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer to call for Tokyo to step up its involvement in regional security.

"We'd like to feel that Japan would have the confidence to continue to contribute to peacekeeping operations in the Asia Pacific region," Mr. Downer said.

Mr. Koizumi arrives in Australia after marking his first year in office. He came to power promising to pull Japan out of its prolonged economic slump. So far, the downturn has not been arrested.

His visit provides a brief respite from his domestic troubles. He will attend the first Japan-Australia Ministerial Committee since 1997 and is expected to urge his hosts to be more involved in the security and economic advancement of the East Asian region. Mr. Koizumi also has ceremonial duties to undertake including a state banquet in the federal parliament in Canberra. Later he will lay a wreath at the Australian War Memorial.