EU and Japan resolved to swiftly conclude free trade deal

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Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that he and European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom had confirmed their resolve to swiftly conclude free trade negotiations between the two economies.

“We reaffirmed that it is extremely important (to reach) a broad agreement … as soon as possible in order to counter protectionist moves,” Kishida told reporters after meeting with Malmstrom in Bonn.

“We agreed to continue negotiations and keep the momentum,” Kishida said, adding that he and the EU trade chief had agreed to promptly arrange the next round of negotiations.

While a broad agreement is now within sight, the parties remain divided over certain aspects of market access and tariff removal.

The meeting, requested by the EU side, came on the sidelines of a two-day foreign ministerial session of the Group of 20 major economies through Friday.

The Japan-EU trade negotiations are continuing against a backdrop of concern that US President Donald Trump’s election last November on an “America First” platform is part of a rising tide of protectionism worldwide.

There is also pressure to clinch a deal before elections in major European nations this year. France is due to hold the first round of its presidential election in April, while Germany is preparing for a federal election in September.

According to a French diplomatic source, it could be difficult to conclude the agreement by the end of the year if negotiations do not end soon.

EU negotiators have requested market access for the bloc’s dairy products, meat, timber and wine at levels higher than Japan agreed to in the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade deal.

Japan, meanwhile, is asking for the European Union to remove its tariffs on Japanese vehicles and electronic devices, which are 10 percent and up to 14 percent.

Under the TPP, the United States agreed to remove its 2.5 percent tariff on Japanese auto imports over 25 years. Japan has urged the European Union to eliminate its auto tariff at a quicker pace.

Signed by 12 Pacific Rim countries in February last year, the TPP is now effectively dead after Trump issued an executive order to pull the United States out of the pact soon after taking office last month.