European trade negotiators have left for Tokyo to seal a highly anticipated free trade agreement with Japan. The team includes Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan who will negotiate with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. Following years of talks, the two partners are working on signing an agreement at the upcoming G20 meeting in Hamburg later this week. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, however, stressed that more work was needed: “There are still a few sticking points. I have therefore sent the European agriculture commissioner and the trade commissioner to Japan”.
Finalizing a deal between the EU and Japan would be a major victory for the advocates of liberalism in international trade especially after the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with a number of Asian countries including Japan but excluding China. Mr. Juncker said he wanted the talks with Japan to be over before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds negotiations with European leaders in Brussels on 6 July. “The trade agreement with Japan, if it materializes, is important. And I am assuming that it will materialize,” Juncker said at a pre-G20 press conference with EU leaders in Berlin, adding that “it will fully comply with all European rules, requirements and standards.”
Ms. Malmoström, however, said that it is not yet clear how long the negotiations might last and when a conclusion might be reached. Currently, the EU and Japan are in the 18th round of negotiations and the last round of talks took place in Tokyo in April this year. The official negotiations were launched in 2013 and a Strategic Partnership Agreement is being negotiated in parallel with the FTA. Japan is the EU’s second biggest trading partner in Asia after China. Together, the EU and Japan account for more than a third of the world’s GDP.