April 5, 2014 5:36 am JST

Australia's Abbott seen pushing trade, defense during Japan visit

KAORI TAKAHASHI, Nikkei staff writer

SYDNEY -- Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will meet Monday with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, during a four-day visit to Japan, where he is expected to discuss plans for stronger economic and security ties.

     Tokyo and Canberra are trying to move forward with a planned economic partnership agreement, but effort is needed to push past disagreements over beef tariffs.

     "We're close to a deal, but there's one or two sticking points," Abbott said Friday at a news conference, adding that he hopes "they can be dealt with over the next few days."

     Japan is Australia's second-largest trading partner and the No. 1 recipient of such Aussie exports as liquefied natural gas and coal.

     Abbott, who is scheduled to arrive in Japan on Saturday, will be accompanied by representatives from about 30 Australian companies. The group is to include top officials from such corporations as Anglo-Australian mining and petroleum giant BHP Billiton and Woodside Petroleum, another leading energy concern. They will work to tighten ties with Japanese companies at a luncheon Monday hosted by The Japan-Australia Business Co-operation Committee and other events.

     Abbott also said Friday that he would like to "enhance defense cooperation with Japan." On Monday, he is slated to attend a meeting of Japan's recently launched National Security Council, making him the first foreign leader to do so.

     Furthermore, it is expected that Abe and Abbott will agree to enter negotiations on a deal intended to facilitate joint development of defense equipment.

     After leaving Japan, Abbott will visit South Korea and China as part of the weeklong trip. The three East Asian trading partners together account for 51% of Australia's exports.

     Some 600 company officials are to accompany Abbott to China, with business talks scheduled in Shanghai and three other cities.

     Asked about a free trade agreement being negotiated with China, Abbott expressed hope that "some progress can be made."