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Japan-EU trade deal in sight as gaps narrow on autos, farm produce

Kyodo

Japan and the European Union are in the final phase of wrapping up a wide-ranging agreement on free trade early next month, seeking to strike deals on sensitive issues, such as access to the agriculture and automobile markets.

The two sides plan to scrap the 28-member bloc’s 10 percent tariff on Japanese cars some 10 years after the trade deal takes effect, sources said recently.

The bloc is also eyeing an immediate elimination of tariffs on around 80 percent of auto parts exported from Japan, which currently stand at 3 to 4.5 percent, the sources said.

Progress on the auto negotiations would be a boost for Japan, which in 2016 exported some 600,000 cars to the EU. In return, however, the bloc is likely to force Tokyo to make concessions on agricultural access.

The EU is urging Tokyo to cut tariffs on products such as cheese, wine and lumber, while the Japanese side is reluctant to open its agriculture market, especially more than it agreed to for the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership pact signed in February 2016.

After years of FTA negotiations launched in 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, plan to meet on July 6 in Brussels to strike a broad agreement on the trade deal, diplomatic sources said.

The talks would come a day before a meeting of the Group of 20 major economies kicks off in Hamburg, Germany.

At their previous meeting in May, the three leaders confirmed their desire to reach an agreement on fundamental elements of the FTA as early as possible and said that the deal is “within reach,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Abe is eager to accelerate talks on the Japan-EU FTA after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his country’s withdrawal from the TPP soon after taking office in January.

“Amid moves promoting protectionism, as seen in Britain’s exit from the European Union and in the policies of President Trump, Japan is looking to strike a broad agreement with the European Union as soon as possible,” a senior Foreign Ministry official told a group of lawmakers from Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Friday.