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Japan and the European Union have taken an important step toward deepening their relationship by starting formal negotiations on a free trade agreement in April, seeking to boost their faltering economies by creating one of the world’s largest free-trade accords that will account for about 30 percent of global gross domestic product.

“With the change of the strategic environment, the Japan-EU partnership needs to be strengthened further,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during a teleconference with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on March 25, launching the start of negotiations.

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