A third round of negotiations for signing a free trade agreement (FTA) between Japan and Colombia started on Monday in Tokyo and will run until Friday, according to Japan’s ambassador for economic diplomacy.

Ambassador Jun Yokota said that the Japanese government hopes to “move forward to reach a comprehensive agreement at a high level.” The main topics of the negotiations are tariff reduction, rules of origin and procurement.

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Colombia’s main exports to Japan are coffee and flowers, while important imports include iron, steel, industrial machinery and vehicles. One of Japan’s central aims in the talks is to eliminate the 35% tariffs on Japanese automobiles exported to Colombia.

The two countries first agreed to enter free trade negotiations in September 2012. The first round of talks were held in Tokyo in December. The previous round was held in Colombia’s third-largest city Cali during May of this year. It was reported that during these earlier rounds representatives made progress in reaching agreement in areas including customs procedures, trade in goods and services, competition and intellectual property.

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Over the previous 10 years trade between Colombia and Japan has grown from less than $2 million in 2001 to over $7 million in 2012. For the same period, Colombian exports to Japan nearly tripled,  from $165 million in 2001 to $ 453 million last year.

Colombia has been aggressively expanding its free trade agreement deals over the last few years. In 2006, the country signed an FTA with the United States which came came into effect in May 2012. In August of this year an FTA with the European Union came into force which was hailed as having the potential to bring great economic benefits to both jurisdictions. The European Commission forecast at the time of the FTA agreement that Colombian imports to the EU will increase by nearly 10% in the next few years, adding 1.3% to the country’s GDP growth.

Colombia currently has eight trade agreements with 16 countries, and is currently negotiating agreements with Turkey, Israel, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Colombia’s flurry of FTAs have recently attracted significant criticism and controversy. Activists have pointed to displacement of farm workers, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities by multinational business interests, who they say will likely be further facilitated by FTAs. The issues of anti-union violence, reduction in food security and environmental damage from extractive industries have also been cited by critics of Colombia’s free trade agreements.

MORE: Colombia’s free trade pact with EU comes into force


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