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DAVOS, Switzerland (Kyodo) Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Saturday called for the launch of free-trade talks with the European Union this year in an address at one of the world’s most influential economic gatherings in the Swiss resort of Davos.

Kan’s speech at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum focused on two themes — the opening up of Japan and the importance of reinforcing social bonds.

Kan explained his belief that accelerating the drive to further open Japan’s doors to the rest of the world will serve as a catalyst to overcome its long economic stagnation.

But he said, “At the same time, forging new connections between individuals is needed so that the opening of the nation will not bring about rupture among people.”

He said that 2011 will be what he termed the “third opening of Japan,” following one about 150 years ago when it started to modernize by adopting Western ideas and another after the war, when it followed the path of democracy and a free economy.

In pursing this goal, Kan said it is imperative for Japan to forge free-trade agreements with more countries.

“We also very much look forward to beginning negotiations this year with the EU,” Kan said.

He also told the audience of business leaders and policymakers that Japan will decide whether to join negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-backed regional free-trade agreement, by around June.

At home, there are concerns over an expected huge influx of cheaper agricultural products if Japan promotes trade liberalization.

But Kan reiterated his position that the promotion of free trade and making the country’s agriculture more internationally competitive can go hand in hand, especially given that Japanese food is gaining popularity in other countries.

He introduced one of his mottoes that the role of politics is to aim for “a society with the least unhappiness.”

“Happiness and prosperity are to be pursued by free individuals based on their own values and ideals,” he said. “Politics, which is among other things an exercise of authority, should not intervene in this process.”

Kan is scheduled to return to Tokyo on Sunday afternoon.

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