TOKYO (AFP), APRIL 6, 2006
 (STAR) The Philippines' top diplomat said Wednesday he hoped to sign a delayed free-trade deal with Japan in July to mark the 50th anniversary of the re-establishment of relations after World War II.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said he handed an invitation to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to take part in anniversary celebrations where the free-trade agreement would be signed.

"I believe the goal that we both have is when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of normalization of Japan-Philippine diplomatic relations. That will be July 23," Romulo said when asked when the countries would sign a trade deal.

"This will define our relationship for the next decade or so. That's why it is important that we have a good agreement," Romulo told a news conference.

Romulo, who is on a four-day visit to Japan, said the two sides had ironed out most issues including investment, tourism and exchanges of workers.

The countries had initially planned to ink the pact last year but disagreements have lingered. Japan has sought a more open investment climate in the Philippines which in turn has pushed to send more workers to Japan, mostly nurses.

Since the re-establishment of diplomatic ties, Japan has become the top aid donor to the Philippines.

Japan has contributing 9.4 billion dollars over the past 23 years or 51 percent of all foreign loans and grants to Manila in the period.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso told Romulo on Tuesday that Tokyo is willing to consider resuming grant aid instead of loans, according to an official at the talks.

Japan has been seeking closer relations with Southeast Asia including through free-trade deals amid tense relations with its closer neighbor China over its war history.

On Tuesday, Japan said it would propose launching talks in 2008 to create a massive Asian trade bloc of 16 countries.

Japan aiming for talks over 16-nation East Asian economic community, FTA 04/05 10:41:48 AM

TOKYO (AP) - Japan's economy minister on Tuesday said he hopes to begin negotiations in 2008 to create an East Asian economic partnership among 16 nations that would be based on a regional free trade agreement.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshihiro Nikai told reporters Tuesday that 16 nations would be included under the proposed economic partnership agreement.

The nations include Australia, China, Korea, India, Japan, and New Zealand, along with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The partnership's purpose is to enable smoother economic relations among the signers, revolving around a free-trade agreement, said Takeshi Fujimoto, deputy director of the ministry's Economic Parternship Division.

The agreement is also expected to enhance Japan's presence throughout the region, Fujimoto said.

Nikai will formally present the proposal to the Cabinet's Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy Friday, Fujimoto said.

Nikai also said Japan will propose creating a regional economic policy think tank modeled on the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Fujimoto said.

The proposed think tank _ described as an "East Asian OECD" _ will help promote regional policy coordination and economic integration, Fujimoto said.

Comprised mainly of industrialized nations, the 30-nation OECD strives to help governments achieve sustainable economic growth and publishes detailed economic statistics. Japan and South Korea currently are the only East Asian members.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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