TORONTO, Ontario and CALGARY, Alberta – Canada and Japan will begin negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement that would eliminate tariffs on most products, according to an announcement made March 25.

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the negotiations during an official visit to Japan. According to The Journal Commerce, Japanese negotiators are expected to call for the abolition of Canadian import tariffs on Japanese cars and other products as part of the negotiations, while the Canadians are expected to demand the elimination of Japanese import tariffs on Canadian farm products.

Harper has been touring Asia. During his stop in Thailand, he announced exploratory talks toward a free trade agreement with Thailand. The talks will examine the potential economic benefits of a free trade agreement and how such an agreement would enhance the existing relationship between the two countries. The government intends to reach out to stakeholders, including provincial and territorial governments, on the scope of a possible free trade agreement with Thailand.

Canada Beef, Inc. and Maple Leaf Foods welcomed news about the trade talks.

"Today's announcement of a Canada-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement is great news for Canada's beef and veal industry," says Rob Meijer, president of Canada Beef Inc. "We're hopeful this will ultimately lead to Japan allowing full market access to Canadian beef. This would mean a significant increase in the premium value and volume of exports."

In 2010 Canada's exports of beef to Japan was worth $81.4 million. Full market access could exceed 20,000 tonnes valued at $125 million dollars annually, based on modest projections.

"We congratulate both governments on taking the important first steps towards this historic partnership," said Michael McCain, president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Foods. "Maple Leaf Foods has had a strong presence in Japan for many years, serving many valued Japanese customers with high quality fresh chilled and frozen pork.

“This agreement could unlock tremendous opportunities to increase the supply of Canadian pork products to a priority international market for Canada's agri-food sector,” he added. “We encourage and are hopeful for a timely and ambitious outcome of these negotiations."