BRUSSELS – The annual high-level conference between Japan and the European Union could be downgraded to an informal dialogue, as the bloc is frustrated at the slow progress of free-trade talks between the two sides, sources close to the matter said Saturday.
The 28-nation union has proposed making the upcoming summit, expected to be held this spring in Brussels, informal talks between the leaders of the two sides, the sources said. Tokyo has expressed opposition to such a move.
Japan and the then European Community began holding annual high-level meetings in 1991, and the free-trade talks were launched in 2013 with the goal of reaching a broad agreement by last year.
But they are still negotiating over tariff elimination or reductions in such areas as foods, beverages and cars.
Mauro Petriccione, a negotiator with the EU, said during an interview with Kyodo News and other media in December that the two sides could reach an agreement “in a few months,” in expressing a desire to advance the talks.
But Petriccione also said, “If we don’t do it in 2016, we have to explain why,” adding that EU negotiators could become skeptical “towards the possibility of a EU-Japan FTA (free-trade agreement).”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to promote Japanese farm and other exports through trade liberalization deals with other economies.
Tokyo is also focusing on completing domestic procedures to ratify the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement signed last month following years of negotiations with nations including the United States, Australia and Singapore.