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Japan, EU leaders agree to accelerate free trade talks

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and European Union leaders have agreed to expedite negotiations for a free trade deal and reach a broad accord by the end of the year, Japanese officials said.

Abe shared the view in a meeting Tuesday with Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the executive branch of the 28-member bloc, they said.

Tusk was quoted as saying a free trade agreement should be reached during the annual Japan-EU summit in the latter half of the year.

Japan and the regional grouping, which began free trade negotiations in April 2013, missed the earlier envisioned deadline for reaching a deal set for the end of 2015.

During the meeting, Abe said Japan was trying to improve relations with China. He explained that China seemed eager to reciprocate, though there were sharp exchanges of views during last Saturday’s Japan-China foreign ministers’ talks in Beijing.

The prime minister said he will seek to hold a bilateral summit between the Asian neighbors in early September, when China will host a summit of the Group of 20 major economies, the officials said.

He also expressed concern about Beijing’s ongoing militarization of the South China Sea, while Tusk supported the idea of sending a joint message from the Group of Seven industrialized nations on the need to observe international and maritime laws.

Touching on increasing uncertainty in the global economy, Abe pointed to the need for flexible fiscal policy in order to spark demand. Juncker said he is in full agreement on that point.

Meanwhile, Abe revealed a plan to map out humanitarian and other support measures to help stabilize Middle Eastern and African nations that will be presented at the G-7 summit to be held on May 26 and 27 in Mie Prefecture, the officials said.

He was hopeful that the EU will remove all remaining restrictions imposed on imported Japanese food products after the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, they said.

Abe is visiting Belgium on the third leg of his weeklong trip to major European nations and Russia to lay the groundwork for the G-7 summit.