(Repeats story published on Sunday; no change to text)
TOKYO, April 6 Australian Prime Minister Tony
Abbott said on Sunday that he hoped for a quick conclusion to
thorny free trade negotiations with Japan but suggested time
might be needed to ensure conclusion of a "satisfactory" pact.
Ministers from both nations took part in a five-hour session
on Saturday that ended well into the evening without agreement
on several substantial issues, Australian Trade Minister Andrew
Robb said. He termed the talks exhausting, but said progress had
Abbott told reporters that he hoped a conclusion was near
for the negotiations, launched in 2007.
"I am optimistic about the free trade negotiations, but they
have been difficult negotiations," Abbott said, according to a
transcript provided by the Australian government.
"This government is determined to bring them to a swift and
Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister
Yoshimasa Hayashi, who also took part in Saturday's discussion,
said there had been a "frank exchange of opinion" and he would
be reporting on the progress to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abbott, who meets Abe on Monday, has set the free trade deal
with Japan as a top priority, promising to drop tariffs on
manufactured imports, including Japanese cars, while pushing
Tokyo to cut tariffs on agricultural products, especially beef.
But he was cautious about the chances of clinching a deal
during his visit, which lasts until Tuesday.
"I am hopeful, but not certain," he said. "There are still
some final matters to be resolved and while we do want a swift
conclusion, we want a satisfactory conclusion as well."
Robb said talks would resume on Sunday, but a Japanese
Agriculture Ministry official said that had yet to be decided.
Japan is already Australia's biggest beef export market,
both in volume and value terms, taking almost a third of all
beef exported in 2012, according to Meat & Livestock Australia.
Failure by Japan and Australia to conclude a pact could ease
U.S. worries that a trade deal with Australia prior to an
agreement on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will
give Australian exporters better access to Japan than their U.S.
The United States urged Japan on Thursday to open up its
farm and auto markets to overseas competition, with Trade
Representative Michael Froman saying Tokyo's reluctance to lower
trade barriers was holding up the TPP.
President Barack Obama, who had hoped to complete the TPP by
the end of last year as a centrepiece of his push to expand the
U.S. presence in Asia, is expected to press for a deal with Abe
when he visits Japan this month.
Froman will travel to Japan on Monday for high-level talks.
(Writing by Elaine Lies, editing by Ron Popeski)