• Kyodo

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Farm minister Yuji Yamamoto plans to visit Europe next week for talks with the European Union’s agriculture commissioner, Phil Hogan, to discuss the Japan-EU free trade deal, a source said Wednesday.

The two sides are aiming to reach a broad agreement on the deal early next month when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Germany for a Group of 20 summit, separate sources have said.

Yamamoto is hoping to use the visit to narrow differences on agriculture issues, a major sticking point in the negotiations, which were launched in 2013.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he agreed Wednesday with European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom by telephone to aim to strike a broad agreement on free trade at an early date as they confirmed that negotiations have made “progress” since they previously talked in May.

Noting the possibility of a Japan-EU summit at the G-20 gathering, Kishida told reporters, “The agreement is within reach and we agreed to exercise political leadership.”

The 28-member bloc is urging Japan to cut tariffs on cheese, pasta, wine and lumber from the EU, while Tokyo is requesting the elimination of a 10 percent tariff on Japanese automobiles, as well as a host of other products.

Chief negotiators from both sides are currently discussing the deal in Tokyo, but remain apart on a number of issues, a Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.

Since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, Abe is eager to accelerate the Japan-EU talks, which he said are aimed at crafting “free and fair rules” for the 21st century.

Japan is the EU’s second-biggest trading partner in Asia after China. The bloc and Japan together account for more than a third of the world’s gross domestic product, according to the European Union.

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