Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, European Council President Donald Tusk, and EU President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed on Friday (29 May) to accelerate negotiations over a long-deadlocked Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Japan. The leaders gathered on the occasion of the latest annual meeting between both parties. Prime Minister Abe said that “in the area of economy, we agreed to accelerate the Japan-EU EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) negotiations, aiming to reach a basic agreement within this year while stressing both speed and quality”.
Both economic powers have agreed to finalize a giant free trade deal connecting their economies but talks have been stalled for a long time mainly due to disagreements over tariffs and trade barriers. While Brussels wants to include non-tariff barriers in selected areas, Tokyo wants to push through customs duties on Japanese cars, which is a very thorny issue for Europe’s major carmakers and exporters such as Germany. Japan is moreover involved in negotiations over TPP, a Pacific Free Trade Agreement, which is currently also facing a deadlock due to domestic issues in the United States.
Both parties also jointly express their concerns over China’s recent aggressive moves in the South China Sea. In a joint statement, they said that they “continue to observe the situation in the East and South China Sea and are concerned by any unilateral actions that change the status quo and increase tensions”. China has started to accelerate the construction of artificial islands in the disputed waters, which raised concerns both in Washington and among China’s neighbours.
On top of discussing the FTA and China concerns, Japanese and European leaders also pointed out that they continued to cooperate on other issues, such as the conflict in Crimea. Prime Minister Abe is reportedly planning to visit Ukraine next month after he has attended the Group of Seven (G7) Summit in Germany.