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    Philippines Hopes to Finalize Japan Trade Pact

    The Philippines says it is very close to signing a wide-ranging economic agreement with Japan. The Philippines has also become the first nation to indicate support for Japan's proposed ambitious Asian free-trade block.

    After meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other top officials in Tokyo, Philippines Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo told reporters the two countries are close to concluding a wide-ranging economic partnership.

    "Since it encompasses trade and investment, tourism, as well as professional people and skills, this will define our relationship for the next decade or so," he said.

    The Philippines is hoping the free-trade deal can be reached by July 23 - the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Tokyo and Manila and that the Japanese prime minister will accept an invitation to sign the agreement in the Philippine capital.

    The deal has been in the works for two years. But a significant outstanding issue appears to be the number of nurses and other health care workers from the Philippines the Japanese government is willing to accept.

    Philippine officials say Tokyo wants to set a quota for the number of Filipino nurses and midwives allowed to work in Japan, but Manila wants the number determined by demand.

    The Philippines also became the first country to publicly support a plan announced Tuesday by Japan to create a 16-nation Asian free-trade zone that would encompass half the world's population.

    Foreign Secretary Romulo gave his endorsement of the proposal in his meeting with reporters.

    "We are for that and we certainly would not mind joining it," he said. 

    Japan's trade minister is to formally propose the pact at a government economic council meeting on Friday.

    Officials here say they want to see negotiations begin in two years toward an agreement in 2010.

    The proposed free trade zone would include Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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