Japan is proposing a low-tariff import quota on some categories of European cheese in negotiations for a free trade deal with the European Union, a source close to the talks said Tuesday.
It wasn’t clear whether the EU will agree to the proposal given its demand that Japan eliminate tariffs on all categories of cheese, including processed and natural.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he was going to Brussels on Wednesday for another round of talks with EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom, aiming to finalize the free trade deal before their leaders meet later in the week.
“Tough negotiations are still ongoing. I can’t prejudge, but I will join the talks with a strong determination to realize” a free trade agreement in principle, Kishida said Tuesday ahead of his two-day trip to the home city of the EU’s headquarters.
“I will work to the bitter end to achieve the best results for Japan,” he said.
Japan and the 28-member bloc are in the final stages of negotiations, trying to overcome differences over tariffs on European cheese, Japanese automobiles and other sensitive sectors.
In the automobiles sector, Japan is set to request an elimination of tariffs in seven years after the free trade pact comes into effect, the source said. The EU, meanwhile, is believed to be asking that duties be scrapped in 10 years.
Kishida and Malmstrom held intense talks in Tokyo on Friday and Saturday, joined by Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yuji Yamamoto and EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan, but failed to reach a compromise.
Kishida said at the time he plans to visit Brussels to resolve the remaining issues.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, expressed hope for the free trade deal, writing on Twitter, “EU-Japan Summit on Thursday. Ambitious free and fair trade deal in the making.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to meet Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, on Thursday in Brussels, a day before the Group of 20 summit begins in Hamburg, Germany, to announce the broad Japan-EU free trade agreement.
Japan and the EU say striking a deal will send a strong message to countries leaning toward a more protectionist stance as it will demonstrate the importance of free and fair trade.
The talks have recently seen renewed urgency amid uncertainty around multilateral free trade agreements following the United States’ withdrawal from the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership and Britain’s decision to exit the EU.
“We need to protect what needs to be protected, including agriculture and farm products, and pursue what needs to be pursued in the EU market,” Abe said at a meeting with ministers involved in the negotiations.
“It is extremely important that Japan and the EU realize the agreement in principle and raise the banner of free trade amid protectionist moves in the world,” Abe said, adding that the accord is also “meaningful to promote our country’s growth strategy.”