ABU DHABI (AFP) – Japan and the United Arab Emirates agreed on Sunday to launch a high-level dialogue aimed at boosting economic ties and also pledged to speed up talks on a free trade pact.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met the president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, at Al-Mushrif palace hours after arriving in the oil-rich nation on the first such visit by a Japanese premier in almost three decades.
“During the meeting, the two leaders agreed to further strengthen economic relations between the two countries,” said a Japanese government official under condition of anonymity.
“In order to develop their economic ties, they agreed to set up a joint economic committee at ministerial level,” the official said.
Japan plans to appoint its foreign and trade ministers to the committee while the UAE will send its foreign minister, the official said, adding that it is hoped their first meeting will be held “at the earliest time” possible.
The two sides also agreed to affirm efforts to reach a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council, the official said.
Japan and the six oil-rich GCC nations — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — began free trade talks last year with the intention of concluding an accord in 2008.
Abe also addressed a seminar that included the 180-strong delegation of Japanese businessmen travelling with him.
“This large-scale economic mission reflects Japan’s expectations of a business opportunity in the UAE, which has been developing rapidly,” Abe told the seminar.
Sheikh Khalifa told the premier: “It is important (for the UAE) to have the presence of Japanese companies, no matter whether they are engaged in energy or not.”
The emirate of Abu Dhabi sits on most of the UAE’s oil and gas reserves, ranked fifth and fourth in the world respectively.
During their talks, Abe invited Sheikh Khalifa, who is also the ruler of Abu Dhabi, and crown prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahayan to visit Japan, while the UAE president invited Japanese Emperor Akihito to his country, the official said.
Japan’s first leader to be born after World War II will meet the crown prince later on Sunday.
His visit to the oil-rich nation is the first by a Japanese premier since Takeo Fukuda in 1978.
Abe also met personnel serving with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force based in the UAE for an Indian Ocean mission providing fuel and logistical support to US-led forces in Afghanistan.
The mission, which was extended by a year last October, is designed to contribute to the “war on terrorism” launched by US President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Abe arrived from Saudi Arabia, where he and King Abdullah agreed to forge “multi-layered” ties and both men urged Iran to take a constructive approach to resolve the crisis over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The Japanese premier, who paid his first official visit to the United States for a summit with President George W. Bush on Friday, is also due to visit Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar during his five-day tour.
In Riyadh, Abe and King Abdullah agreed to cooperate not only on energy security but also by developing political, business and cultural links.
Japan is increasingly concerned by potential threats to its energy supply. It has virtually no oil or gas reserves of its own, and relies for more than 70 percent of its oil supply on the four Gulf states Abe is due to visit.
This is the second trip to the Middle East by a Japanese premier in less than a year. Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, travelled to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan last July.