BRUSSELS – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and European Union leaders agreed Wednesday to speed up efforts to conclude a free trade agreement and cooperate on countering attacks in cyberspace.
“We will negotiate intensively while aiming to achieve a broad (trade) agreement in 2015,” Abe said at a joint press conference after a summit with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at EU headquarters in Brussels.
Meeting amid tensions triggered by the civil strife in Ukraine, the leaders also condemned Russia’s intervention in the country and called for dialogue with Moscow to seek a diplomatic solution.
Japanese and EU officials have been negotiating the possible elimination or reduction of tariffs in trade liberalization talks launched in April last year.
Japan aims in particular to increase auto and television exports to the 28 nations in the European Union, while the bloc hopes to boost exports of such products as cheese and wine to Japan and is also calling for the removal of nontariff barriers, including domestic safety rules related to motor vehicles and medical equipment.
“We reaffirm the importance of . . . the early conclusion of a highly comprehensive and ambitious” free trade agreement, the leaders said in a joint statement after the meeting.
The fifth round of talks ended last month but the two sides have yet to announce any specific achievements.
The leaders apparently want to accelerate the talks by confirming their commitment to an “early conclusion” of an FTA that would link economies that account for 30 percent of the global economy.
“We welcome the fact that market access offers have been exchanged on trade in goods, and that steady progress has been made in other areas as well,” the statement said while alluding to the need for further efforts to narrow differences in government procurement, trade in services and investment.
The EU nations are studying whether to continue the negotiations by reviewing progress made in getting Tokyo to reduce trade barriers.
“Negotiations have now reached a critical phase,” Van Rompuy said in written remarks after the summit. If the one-year review allows, “we must raise the level of ambition and bring these negotiations to a speedy and successful conclusion,” he said.
Barroso said he expects no particular opposition from EU members to continuing talks with Japan and expressed hope that the talks will accelerate.
Abe said Japan will seek free trade accords with major economies as part of efforts to stimulate growth. Japan is also engaged in negotiations with the United States and 10 other countries in pursuit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact.
On cybersecurity, Japan and the European Union agreed to launch a dialogue to boost cooperation, the statement said.
“Facing more severe, widespread and globalized risks surrounding cyberspace and the need to protect human rights online, protection of a safe, open and secure cyberspace is needed,” they said.
The dialogue will follow similar consultations Japan has held with the U.S., Britain and other countries. The move comes as Tokyo aims to proactively contribute to international rule-making over cyberspace.
Japan and the EU will also hold an inaugural meeting in the latter half of the year in Tokyo on the stable use of outer space, the statement said.
Promoting Japan’s role in ensuring global peace and prosperity, Abe agreed with the EU leaders on the Self-Defense Forces and European military forces holding joint drills related to anti-piracy operations off Somalia and to cooperation in controlling exports of weapons or technologies that can be diverted for military use.
They severely criticized Russia for annexing Crimea and said they opposed any attempt to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They also pledged to support efforts to ensure a free and fair presidential election later this month in Ukraine.
Japan and the European Union “strongly condemn the illegal attempt to annex Crimea by Russia and do not recognize it,” the statement said, prodding Russia and Ukraine to engage “in a meaningful dialogue” and urging Moscow not to take “any steps to further destabilize Ukraine.”
The leaders called for ensuring freedom of navigation in and flight over the open seas, in an apparent criticism of China’s unilateral declaration in November of an air defense identification zone overlapping Japanese airspace over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, administered by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.
At a separate press conference later, Abe said Japan aims to “contribute to solving the (Ukraine) problem while maintaining dialogue with Russia.”
He also said Japan and China should have dialogue without setting preconditions as the two Asian neighbors remain at odds over the territorial row and differing views of wartime history.