BRUSSELS — European Union Commission President Romano Prodi will embark on an official visit to Japan later this week to pave the way for the EU-Japan summit in July and to discuss a variety of international issues.

These include the Middle East crisis, tensions in the steel market, the Kyoto Protocol and Japan’s economic reform agenda.

Prodi will lead an EU Commission team to Tokyo from Thursday to Saturday and hold bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other officials to prepare for the annual EU-Japan summit scheduled for early July in Tokyo.

Prodi’s official spokesman, Jonathan Faull, said the Middle East and steel are expected to feature prominently on the agenda. A joint approach toward Washington on the steel trade will be sought.

Both Brussels and Tokyo cried foul last month when U.S. President George W. Bush announced the imposition of new duties on steel imports, ranging from 8 percent to 30 percent and affecting 10 separate steel products, or 20 million metric tons of steel, worth about $8.6 billion in 2001.

Last week, the EU, Japan and other countries issued a joint statement highlighting their “strong concern” about the U.S. protectionist measures in the steel market and calling for a World Trade Organization safeguards panel in early May.

As for the Middle East, the meeting is expected to stress support for the U.S.-sponsored peace initiative already under way and seek assurances that Tokyo will be kept informed of the EU’s stance toward Israel and the Palestinians.

Faull said the EU will encourage and not criticize the Koizumi administration’s reform program and urge it to continue structural reforms efforts. It will also push for addressing the bad-debt problem at banks and carrying out measures to offset the long-standing trend of deflation.

“We think that the government has a positive approach on the economy. Our message will be that Japan should keep at it,” Faull said. “A return to growth for Japan is crucial for the world economy, and we hope that happens as soon as possible.”

But Brussels will keep up pressure on Japan during Prodi’s visit and at the subsequent summit to enact more structural reforms to raise investment levels, encourage growth and help foreign firms enter the market.

Before the last bilateral summit, held here in December, the EU Commission outlined the main areas where it would like to see more aggressive market-opening in a document titled “EU Priority Proposals for Regulatory Reform in Japan.”

It focuses on various measures to boost inward foreign direct investment, which would bring positive economic effects through technology transfers and a more competitive environment.

The document is currently being updated ahead of the July summit, but officials said the main themes would remain unchanged.

Specifically, the EU still feels that investment into Japan has risen but has been dominated by large takeovers and capital tieups with Japanese firms, “so the benefits which accrue to the economy as a whole through higher levels of investment, domestic and foreign, are not permeating as widely through all layers of the Japanese economy as they should,” an EU diplomat said.

Better enforcement of competition policy through a strengthening of the Japan Fair Trade Commission and tighter enforcement of the Antimonopoly Law are also items the EU Commission is expected to press Koizumi on.

EU firms feel hampered from investing in Japan’s legal, insurance, telecommunications, transportation and recruitment sectors because of restrictions.

They are also to discuss ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and establishing a shared position ahead of the September summit in Johannesburg on sustainable development.

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