German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday in Tokyo, where the two leaders pledged to further strengthen the bilateral relationship as the world faces growing protectionism and the United Kingdom’s potentially turbulent exit from the European Union.

“The roles Japan and Germany are playing are now getting bigger and bigger as the U.K. is heading toward the exit from the EU,” Abe told Merkel at the outset of their summit meeting.

Merkel’s visit to Tokyo days after the Japan-EU free trade pact took effect on Friday “sends a strong message on promotion of free trade and strengthening of the Japan-Germany economic relationship,” Abe said.

The pact removes nearly all tariffs between the two economic zones, which account for 28 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

“It’s time to raise the Japan-Germany relationship to a higher level, toward a rule-based international order and prosperity of the world,” added Abe.

In response, Merkel said she came with “a large group” of business leaders from Germany to “breathe life into” the Japan-EU economic partnership pact. She also noted that Japan and Germany each have close relationships with China, and that those relationships have both “good and difficult aspects” at the same time. “In that sense, too, cooperation (between Germany and Japan) is quite important,” Merkel said.

The two also agreed to continue working together in dealing with Brexit, and joint efforts are set to include promoting reform of the World Trade Organization, according to Japanese officials. Merkel and Abe also neared agreement on concluding a pact on sharing sensitive security information, which will boost cooperation on defense, the officials said. And the leaders agreed to work together on promoting peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region, Africa and the Western Balkans, according to the officials.

At the Merkel-Abe meeting, “the message we’d like to send is, ‘Hang on, EU, and maintain a strong Europe,’ ” a senior Foreign Ministry official said last week.

Merkel and Abe are among those world leaders calling for the maintenance of free trade and economic systems, with both Tokyo and Berlin concerned by U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist approach to trade.

Merkel’s visit comes ahead of a U.S. Commerce Department report, set to be published by Feb. 17, on whether auto imports are affecting national security — which could be used to justify tariffs on foreign vehicles.

Officials in Tokyo are also concerned about a possible no-deal Brexit. Many Japanese firms have invested in the U.K. and use the country as their gateway to Europe.

Japan’s direct investment in the U.K. totaled ¥4.25 trillion in 2016, the second-largest destination following the United States that year, according to the Foreign Ministry.

“Japan is determined to preserve — and committed to enhancing — the free, open and rules-based international order,” Abe said in a speech at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 29. “I call on all of us to rebuild trust toward the system for international trade,” he said.

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