Japan, Thailand Sign Free Trade Agreement

Trade agreement will cut tariffs on all types of goods - from seafood to autos.

TOKYO (AP) - Japan and Thailand signed a free trade agreement Tuesday that will cut tariffs on a wide range of traded goods, from seafood to automobiles.

The deal still requires parliamentary approval in Japan, but that is widely expected. The Thai Cabinet has already given final approval to the accord after it was debated in the Thai legislature.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and visiting Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont signed the agreement at a ceremony in Tokyo.

The signing comes a day after South Korea and the U.S. concluded talks for a free trade agreement, reflecting the proliferation of bilateral trade deals amid stalled World Trade Organization negotiations aimed at forging a global trade treaty.

The Thai-Japanese agreement, which reduces or eliminates tariffs on farm products and manufactured goods, will boost bilateral trade that already totals $44 billion a year, proponents say.

Under the accord, Thailand will gradually reduce tariffs on Japanese cars and automobile parts, and try to eliminate them by 2015.

Japan, Thailand's top export market and biggest foreign investor, will cut tariffs on Thai boneless and cooked chicken over five years, and immediately abolish duties on shrimp and tropical fruit, including mangos, mangosteens, durians, papaya and coconut.

Japan will also relax visa requirements to Thai cooks, entertainers and boxing instructors entering the country.

Tokyo has been pushing to forge free-trade agreements with Asian countries. It has reached accords recently with India, the Philippines and Australia.

But talks with South Korea have been stalled over Tokyo's resistance to opening its farm and fishing sectors.

''Unfortunately, Japan-South Korea (trade) negotiations have stalled. We should make effort to resume the talks,'' Abe said.

He added that Tokyo should also look into a possibility of a free trade agreement with the U.S. after carefully studying a global impact of such a deal.

Japan and Thailand had reached a broad trade agreement in 2005, but their planned signing ceremony in 2006 was delayed by a military coup in September that ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a strong backer of the agreement. Surayud was appointed prime minister by the military after the coup.