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Growth-hungry Japan, EU to declare start of FTA talks Monday

Kyodo

Japan and the European Union are expected to announce the launch of formal negotiations on concluding a bilateral free-trade agreement at their summit Monday in Tokyo, eyeing creation of a trading bloc accounting for around 30 percent of global gross domestic product.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso are set to declare the start of the talks on liberalizing trade, investment and services as the two powers seek to reinvigorate their economies, both hit by prolonged slow growth.

“The Japan-EU economic partnership agreement will contribute to economic development for both sides and promote Japanese industries’ entry into Europe,” a Japanese official said.

The official called for swift conclusion of the talks, noting the European Union and South Korea have had an FTA in place since July 2011.

Japan and the 27-nation regional bloc are also expected to agree on the launch of talks on a new political framework that will confirm bilateral cooperation in global and regional issues, such as climate change, the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, and the changing security environment in East Asia, Japanese officials said.

“Japan and the European Union are expected to foster a common understanding on global challenges and to agree on strengthening bilateral cooperation” in the talks on the political framework, according to another Japanese official.

The launch of talks on the Japan-EU FTA and the political framework was decided at a trade ministers’ meeting last November, officials said.

The European Union is believed to be seeking to boost trade relations with Japan to prevent the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade initiative from setting global rules, sources said.

Abe announced March 15 Japan’s intention to join the TPP talks, currently being negotiated by 11 Pacific Rim countries, including Singapore, Australia and Chile.

The Abe government, launched last December, intends to boost Japan’s economic growth through the TPP and free-trade agreements with the European Union, with China and with South Korea, the sources said. The first round of the talks with the EU may be held as early as April.

The negotiations will focus on sectors such autos, with Tokyo urging the regional bloc to scrap a 10 percent import tariff on Japanese vehicles and Brussels seeking a review of Japan’s automobile safety standards, which it considers nontariff barriers.