[A version of this posting also appeared on the The Conversation blog (28 July 2011) and then the East Asia Forum blog (30 July 2011). The former is 'an independent source of information, analysis and commentary from the university and research sector' involving 'content support' from the Go8, including the University of Sydney.]
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was one of the first among world leaders to visit Japan, over 20-23 April, after the nation was stricken on 3 March by the ‘earthquake-tsunami-radiation triple disaster’. But the Australian government was tactful and realistic in not placing high priority on progressing bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations. Talks had resumed in Tokyo over 7-10 February 2011 after stalling for almost a year, but a lack of progress - particularly over agricultural market access - had then prompted respective Trade Ministers to call for a high-level political summit to regain momentum. The ‘3-11’ disaster generated more urgent priorities for the Japanese government. Indeed, reversing a commitment to decide this question by end-June, in May the Kan administration announced it would defer any decision about whether to join with the nine nations (including Australia) now negotiating an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
Nonetheless, Japan has some significant incentives to resume FTA negotiations with Australia in the wake of 3-11, although the road ahead still looks rocky.