EU confident on wrapping free trade deal with Japan by year end

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 September, 2016, 6:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 September, 2016, 6:37am

European leaders engaged in concluding a free trade agreement between the European Union and Japan are hopeful that the negotiations which first opened in April 2013 will be wrapped up by the end of the year.

Echoing the optimism of recent comments by European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen, who cited the year-end target on Tuesday, EU parliamentarian Bernd Lange also expressed “confidence” that the pact will be concluded in 2016.

Lange, the chairman of the EU’s committee for international trade, told Kyodo News in a phone interview that Japan’s government is now “a little bit more free to negotiate” due to the outcome of its House of Councillors election in July.

Whereas “the negotiations (had been) captured specially by the agricultural sector” in earlier rounds, he explained that in the current political situation “compromises are possible.”

Brussels is looking for Japan to eliminate duties on foods and beverages such as cheese, pasta, pork and wine, and in exchange is reportedly willing to remove EU tariffs on Japanese cars and electronics.

European and Japanese negotiators are scheduled to open the next round of talks on Monday in Brussels.

At an EU-Japan conference in the Belgian capital on Friday, the EU’s deputy chief negotiator Marco Chirullo characterised the upcoming talks as “crucial” to progress on the deal, which he doesn’t expect will conclude in this round, ending September 30.

“A lot of work has to be done on fundamental issues,” Chirullo said. “But it is possible.”

With the initial deadline of year-end 2015 having already passed, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker committed in July to conclude the negotiations by the end of this year.

European countries are now hoping for Japan to accelerate the pace of negotiations in the next round. “There is a need for a new political impetus,” an EU official explained.

“In case there is no progress in the next round, there will be such a gap between the political statements and the technical level that we may have to readjust,” he added.

During a meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday, Japan’s trade minister Hiroshige Seko and the EU’s Katainen affirmed their goal of an early conclusion to the bilateral trade talks.