India, Japan look to ease visa rules to boost trade

India, Japan look to ease visa rules to boost trade

New Delhi: India and Japan agreed on Tuesday to ease visa rules within a year to boost trade between two of Asia’s biggest economies that are also trying to broaden cooperation in defence and nuclear energy.

Japan is among India’s biggest aid donors and bilateral trade has only begun picking up in recent years with Tokyo easing sanctions it imposed after India tested a nuclear device in 1998.

Both countries are working on a comprehensive trade agreement but procedural issues such as restrictive visa rules have slowed progress, officials said.

As Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama wrapped up his three-day visit on Tuesday, the issue of visas came up in his meeting with Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh. “I requested Prime Minister Hatoyama to ensure that Japanese visa system becomes more liberal to enable faster growth of trade, investment and people to people contact," Singh told a joint press conference in New Delhi.

Singh said the Japanese prime minister had mentioned “restrictive features" in the Indian visa system and that he had promised to look into it.

Growing trade has added a new dimension to the India-Japan relationship, which traditionally many in New Delhi have viewed as only a counterweight against common rival China.

The two sides have targeted $20 billion in trade by next year from more than $12 billion in 2008-09. But that is only a small slice of Japan’s overseas trade. Japan’s two-way trade with China was worth $266.8 billion in 2008.

The two prime ministers also discussed cooperation in renewable energy, including nuclear energy, infrastructure projects, security and climate change. Japan and India already hold regular joint military exercises.