Mongolian Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold will visit Japan next week looking to enhance economic and security ties. One of Batbold’s primary objectives for the trip will be to convince Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that negotiating an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Mongolia will be mutually beneficial. Batbold announced that he intends to make the EPA “one of the key agenda items” and emphasized that an EPA with Japan would result in a three-fold increase in bilateral trade within five years.
Linked to this agenda is Mongolia’s desire to acquire Japanese expertise and investment in the nuclear industry. Ahead of the trip, Batbold dismissed notions that Mongolia has lost faith in Japan’s nuclear expertise after the devastating crisis at Fukushima last spring. Instead, he praised Tokyo’s “high technology in the peaceful use of nuclear power” and noted that he believed Japan could teach Mongolia “important lessons from Fukushima.”
Mongolia’s courtship of Japan’s nuclear industry isn’t a new development. Discussions have been going on for the past couple years with Japan and the United States on a package deal that would provide Ulan Bator with its first nuclear reactor. The Japanese press reported last year that an American-Japanese consortium would assist Mongolia in exchange for the latter being host to a significant amount of the region’s nuclear spent fuel. Fukushima clearly muddied the waters for Mongolia, which dismissed the reports due to resistance from the public to the idea of nuclear energy in the wake of the disaster.
Mongolia has more than 1.5 million tons of uranium deposits – much of which it is eager to profit from with the help of foreign investors with expertise in the nuclear energy field. Japan has one of the largest nuclear industries in the world and produces an incredible amount of spent fuel annually, which explains its desire to strike a deal with Mongolia. Additionally, Japanese multinational corporations such as Toshiba and Hitachi are hoping to secure the lucrative contracts to help build Mongolia’s first nuclear reactors. Batbold reaffirmed this as a natural area of cooperation stating that “Mongolia is rich in resources and Japan has high technology.”