Japan, Mongolia affirm closer economic ties via FTA

ULAN BATOR (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Mongolian Prime Minister Chimed Saikhanbileg agreed Thursday to advance economic cooperation with the free trade agreement the two governments signed in February.
     Speaking at a joint news conference with Abe in Ulan Bator, Saikhanbileg said Mongolia completed legal procedures the same day, paving the way for the FTA to take effect possibly in spring next year.
     Abe welcomed the move, saying Japan "would like to cooperate for Mongolia's development." The Japanese government won parliamentary approval for the FTA during a regular Diet session that ended last month.
     Japan's increased economic cooperation with Mongolia appears to be aimed at countering China's rising clout in the country, especially when Mongolia's economy -- heavily dependent on the mining industry -- has been facing difficulties due to slumping natural resource prices.
     Saikhanbileg said he and Abe also agreed to cooperate in infrastructure development in Mongolia, including development of the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine, a major project in southern part of the country.
     Referring to bilateral security cooperation, Abe said he won Mongolia's backing for a greater role by Japan's Self-Defense Forces abroad under new security laws.
     Abe called for continued strategic dialogue involving the two countries and the United States.
     "Sharing basic values, Japan and Mongolia are important strategic partners," he said.
     Given that Mongolia has diplomatic relations with North Korea, Abe asked Ulan Bator's cooperation in addressing Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.
     The abduction issue has prevented Japan and North Korea from normalizing diplomatic relations.
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