Japan, EU begin first talks aimed at free-trade accord


Japan and the European Union began preliminary talks Monday toward the creation of one of the world’s largest free-trade accords, with both sides seeking to boost their respective, faltering economies with such a deal.

During the five-day meeting in Brussels, the two sides are expected to discuss specific areas to be covered in the negotiations and how they should go about the talks aimed at a comprehensive agreement on goods, services and investment by eliminating tariffs and nontariff barriers.

With Japan and the 27-member European Union accounting for some 30 percent of global economic output and 40 percent of world trade, the envisaged pact would provide the EU with a foothold for tapping Asian markets and help Japan expand exports to revive its economy, which has been dogged by prolonged deflation.

“We hope to push forward the economic partnership agreement negotiations and finalize the pact at an early time,” Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi said when the two sides announced the launch of talks late last month.

But EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said at the time the negotiations “would be suspended” if a one-year review of the talks were to fall short of the expected progress.

“We would be looking at whether Japan is taking steps towards easing regulations,” such as making amendments to laws and ordinances to realize freer trade, an EU official said.

The bilateral trade talks kicked off just after Japan gained the tentative go-ahead Friday from the United States to join the Trans Pacific Partnership talks, another massive free-trade quest involving 11 Pacific Rim nations.

With the world’s leading economy endorsing Japan’s participation in the TPP talks, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are expected to grant their approval as well.

Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, Japan has been accelerating its trade liberalization talks with other countries, holding separate bilateral FTA talks with Canada and Mongolia and trilateral talks with China and South Korea.