The visiting Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are expected to fast-track the free trade agreement (FTA) for goods and services, besides firming up other key economic and strategic agreements, when they meet here on Wednesday.

“We have had three meetings (so far). The fourth is on 3 September. Maybe in another two meetings we shall have an agreement," commerce minister Kamal Nath said on Tuesday while addressing a Japanese delegation led by Abe.

During their last meeting, when Singh visited Tokyo in December 2006, the two leaders had envisioned the signing of the FTA and an India-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement within two years.

Abe, who arrived on Tuesday with a business delegation of more than 400 for a three-day visit, is scheduled to address a joint session of Parliament before he meets Singh.

Both Abe and Singh are domestically embattled, as Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) recently lost majority in the Upper House for the first time, and Singh continues to face opposition to his biggest foreign policy initiative, the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement.

“Bilateral ties are irrespective of PMs and agreements will be passed on to the future governments," said a senior Japanese government official, who said the LDP retains a two-thirds majority in the Lower House.

India plans to bring up the issue of civil nuclear cooperation for discussion, since Japan is a key member of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which needs to ratify the India-US nuclear deal. “We want to participate positively in the discussions in the NSG and we hope India will be forthcoming in providing relevant information,’ said a senior Japanese government official. “The strategic partnership between the two countries has just started," said the Japanese official, when asked about the other key element in the bilateral ties. “Defence cooperation between the two countries will be discussed, but there may not be a specific agreement during this meeting."

Brahma Chellaney, a strategic affairs analyst, said Abe’s three-day visit marks a “critical turning point" because of not just the bilateral agreements that will be signed but also as a pointer to the economic and strategic relationship that the two Asian democracies, both surrounded by hostile neighbours, seek to evolve, especially due to the growing influence of China.

“India has historically been unable to fashion a long-term strategy on any issue, not just foreign policy. But fortunately, there is a political consensus on forging closer ties with Japan," said Chellaney.