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Abe, Merkel agree to work with U.S. to promote trade

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed Monday that Japan and Europe should work together with the United States to promote free trade.

“At a time when a protectionist movement is growing in the world, Japan and Europe must cooperate with the United States to continue to fly the flag of free trade,” Abe said at a joint press conference after their talks in Hanover.

Abe said he and Merkel agreed to continue to work in coordination toward a broad conclusion of free trade negotiations underway between Japan and the European Union.

“The negotiations on the EPA between Japan and the European Union are very advanced and are coming to the final stage,” Merkel said at the press conference, referring to the ongoing talks for the economic partnership agreement.

The leaders’ meeting fell on the same day British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said she will formally notify the European Union on March 29 of Britain’s intention to exit the bloc.

“(The European Union) will have to address the challenge of how we should unite,” Merkel said.

Abe and Merkel are scheduled to meet again at the leaders’ summits of the Group of Seven industrialized nations in Italy in May and the Group of 20 in Germany in July.

Merkel said she and Abe had an “extremely good discussion” about U.S. President Donald Trump. She is fresh from a summit with the U.S. leader in Washington last Friday, while Abe also met him there last month.

Trump’s election in November on an “America First” platform has fueled concerns about a rising tide of protectionism worldwide.

“Of course, we each have differing views, but President Trump has told both of us that he is not trying to isolate himself,” Merkel said.

“We have to look at what this means for us, Japan and Germany, and the G-7 (summit) is a good chance for us to see that,” she said.

The leaders also agreed that the threat from North Korea, which is developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. resolutions, has reached a new stage.

Describing North Korea’s actions as “a danger and a threat that goes beyond Asia,” Merkel said she looks forward to taking a clear position on the issue at the upcoming G-7 summit.

“We will put out a signal that through the implementation of sanctions, we can make (North Korea) stop its missile tests and other acts that are a danger to the world,” she said.

Abe said he and Merkel shared the awareness that unilateral attempts to change the status quo in East Asia and Europe are grave problems that undermine the global order.

The choice of phrasing served as a veiled caution against both China’s expansionary activities in the East and South China seas and Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine, hot-button issues for Abe and Merkel, respectively.

Abe also asked Merkel to lift German import restrictions on food products from Fukushima Prefecture in response to the nuclear power plant disaster of March 2011. Merkel responded that she wants discussion on the matter to take place between experts.

Abe arrived in Hanover on Sunday on his fourth visit to Germany in as many years. He called for Merkel’s cooperation toward promoting free trade in a speech at Cebit, a world-leading information technology trade fair in Hanover.

Merkel invited Abe to appear at Cebit when the Japanese leader visited Germany last May.

After his talks with Merkel, Abe is scheduled to meet with French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and European Council President Donald Tusk before returning to Japan on Wednesday.