Abe Flies to Brussels in Bid to Seal Japan-EU Free Trade DealBy
Both sides seek to burnish image as opponents of protectionism
‘The basic agreement is there,’ EU trade commissioner says
Japan and the European Union are working against the clock to remove the remaining obstacles to a trade deal that would cover more than a quarter of the global economy, as they seek to burnish their image as opponents of protectionism.
After weeks of tough negotiations in Tokyo that cap four years of talks, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is in Brussels for meetings with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom. Both sides hope to unveil a broad agreement at a leaders’ summit on Thursday, ahead of a Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg the following day.
"We have made significant progress in negotiations, but there are still important issues to be resolved," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who flies to the Belgian capital Wednesday, told reporters in Tokyo this week. "It’s extremely important for Japan and the EU to fly the flag of free trade amid protectionist moves by reaching a swift outline agreement."
U.S. President Donald Trump’s rejection of multilateral trade deals, including with Europe and with a group of Asia-Pacific nations, has prompted the EU and Japan to speed up talks. But the two sides must reach a consensus on tariffs. Japanese public broadcaster NHK said Wednesday they had mostly resolved their main differences: dairy products and autos. Japan will create a low-tariff quota for European cheese and abolish levies over 15 years, while the EU will remove auto tariffs over seven years.
Abe, his domestic political clout undermined by scandals and a heavy defeat in a Tokyo election, faces pressure from his ruling Liberal Democratic Party to maintain protective measures for home-produced cheese. The EU, the world’s largest cheese exporter, predicts the deal would result in an additional 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion) in exports of processed food, including meat and dairy products, to Japan.
On the other side, Japan’s automakers have complained they are losing out to their counterparts from South Korea, which has a trade deal with Europe.
The Japanese premier is set to discuss security cooperation as well as trade in his meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Thursday.
"We hope to announce on Thursday that we have a political agreement,” Malmstrom said in Madrid on Monday. “The basic agreement is there.”