Japan has urged Qatar to lift restrictions on food imports from the Asian country and said it is high time that a free trade agreement (FTA) with Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) is arrived at the earliest to spruce up investments.

Moreover, Japan is keen to expand the scope of economic and trade relations with Qatar into other sectors such as medical and educational services and infrastructure as it found “limited” room for trade within the hydrocarbon sphere.

It is learnt that the lifting of restrictions on food imports was one of the key areas of discussions that Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe had in Doha.

“After the (Fukushima) nuclear power accident, Qatar has strengthened the import restrictions on Japanese agriculture products. This must be lifted,” Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) director general Hideki Sho told reporters on the sidelines of Qatar-Japan Business Forum yesterday.

Bahrain was the first Gulf country to lift the restrictions after Abe’s talks with Bahraini government this week.

As many as 44 countries had imposed restrictions fearing possible radiation after the deadly tsunami that struck Japan in 2011.

However, Japanese Agriculture Ministry had said food exports, especially fruits and meat, had risen 5% to $437mn in August this year as fears on radiation tapered off.

On the bilateral trade between Japan and Qatar, which is now limited to the energy sector, Sho said the idea is to expand the scope by including other sectors like medical and educational services and infrastructure “in order to expand trade volume since both countries have huge potential.”

On the FTA with the GCC region, the Jetro official termed it as “disappointing” and said negotiations, which was started in 2006 and halted in 2008, should start at the earliest.

A successful agreement could lead to higher volumes of trade and investments, he said.

Asked what was holding back the negotiations, the official said the question should be addressed rather to Saudi Arabia, which is leading the talks on behalf of the Gulf region.

The business forum — which was organised by Jetro, Japan Co-operation Center for the Middle East and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (Jogmec) — saw Premier Abe deliver the keynote address, followed by a speech from Qatar’s Energy Minister HE Dr Mohamed bin Saleh al-Sada.

Referring to Qatar’s rapid economic progress, the visiting premier said “there are not many rich markets as here. Therefore, I think it’s where Japanese food and health-care comes.”

Regarding the medical services, Abe said: “Medical Excellence Japan” and “Hamad General Hospital” have already begun co-operating in the field of regenerative medicines.

Since 1972, Qatar’s relations with Japan have grown several folds in coverage and scale, covering a wide spectrum of political, economic, educational, cultural and scientific and technological co-operation, according to al-Sada.

Highlighting that energy occupies a very special place in the matrix of bilateral relationship, he said: “Japanese companies are active players in Qatar’s energy sector.”

Their partnerships with Qatar include in LNG (liquefied natural gas) and refinery ventures, power plants, exploration, development and production sharing agreements, as well as engineering and construction, he noted.

“I can comfortably say that our collaboration in the field of natural gas is the jewel in the crown of our energy partnership,” al-Sada said.

Japan is Qatar’s largest trading partner with a total volume of more than $37bn in 2012. Qatar is Japan’s second largest LNG supplier and is also Japan’s third largest supplier of crude oil.

Reiterating Qatar’s commitment to Japan’s energy security through a reliable LNG supply, al-Sada said “this will not just help Japan meet the challenges of a changing energy market, but will also reinforce the strong foundations of our bilateral relationship.”

Outlining that the objective of Qatar is to create a fertile environment for transforming the country into a sustainable knowledge-based economy, he said this is where Japan’s role can shine.



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