TOKYO – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is leading a business mission of some 600 people to Tokyo, where he hopes to reach a free trade agreement during a summit with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe.
Abbott meets Abe later Monday after an official welcoming ceremony and meetings with Japan's agriculture and trade ministers.
Japan is Australia's second-biggest trading partner after China and a major customer for its beef and other farm goods.
Abbott said Sunday that some issues remained to be resolved with Tokyo on trade. Japanese media reported progress on the key sticking points of tariffs on beef exports from Australia and car exports from Japan.
Both sides see significant potential for growth in trade in those areas should an agreement be reached.
"I am hopeful but not certain," said Abbott. "There are still some final matters to be resolved and while we do want a swift conclusion, we want a satisfactory conclusion as well."
Abbott also is due to visit South Korea and China this week as part of a tour intended to deepen Australia's economic ties with East Asia.
During his visit to Seoul, Abbott will finalize a free trade agreement reached earlier.
Separately, the U.S. and Japan were holding talks Monday in Tokyo on a trans-Pacific trade agreement. Australia is also a part of those talks, where progress appears to have stalled, at least partly due to disputes over U.S.-Japan trade in cars and farm products.
Japanese officials said before Abbott's visit that whaling, another contentious issue, would not be on the agenda.
Last week, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan's annual hunt in the Antarctic was not for scientific purposes, as Tokyo had claimed, and ordered it halted. Australia, which brought the case against Japan in 2010, praised the judgment. Environmentalists have long sought an end to the whaling program on ethical grounds.