BRUSSELS – European Union leaders plan to call for accelerated negotiations to reach a free trade agreement with Japan “by the end of the year” when they meet this week, according to a draft statement seen by Kyodo News.
In the statement, dated Monday, the leaders ask the European Commission “to actively pursue negotiations” with Tokyo, which have been ongoing since 2013.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the European Union’s top officials, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, agreed in July to accelerate negotiations to reach a broad agreement as soon as possible this year.
The agreement aims to eliminate tariffs on goods and to facilitate market access.
At the latest round of negotiations, held in September, progress was made but some issues remained controversial, such as the elimination of tariffs for Japanese cars, according to a European source.
At the Brussels summit starting Thursday, the EU leaders’ message will be addressed to Japan and other countries and will aim to renew the EU’s commitment to such agreements despite public protests and political opposition.
The European Union recently concluded a free trade deal with Canada but its signing is being delayed, mostly because of opposition in Belgium.
“The credibility of the EU to conclude an agreement in the future is at stake,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told the European Council on Tuesday.
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