Japan and the World Trade Organization on Monday issued what is believed to be an unprecedented joint statement reaffirming their commitment to fostering free trade in the face of a recent surge of protectionism embodied by U.S. president Donald Trump.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and visiting WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo agreed that free trade is a “key driver” of economic growth and that the “inward-looking sentiment” that has increasingly emerged in many parts of the globe is “not a solution” to realizing economic development and job creation.

It apparently marked the first time that a Japanese prime minister and a visiting head of an international entity have issued a joint statement, a Foreign Ministry official told reporters on customary condition of anonymity.

The unusual step was “necessary to demonstrate Japan’s strong commitment to free trade” amid rising “skepticism and concerns” over a multilateral trade framework, the official said.

In meeting Azevedo, who last visited Japan in 2014, Abe assured him that Japan remains a “champion” of free trade. Azevedo, for his part, stressed the need for “more international collaboration” in light of the current sluggish growth of the world’s economy.

“Japan has been extremely helpful and constructive in showing leadership and that’s the exactly the kind of political engagement we need right now,” Azevedo said.

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