By Agence France-Presse
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker dispatched the EU’s top trade officials to Tokyo Thursday for crucial talks to seal a long-awaited deal with Japan.
After four years of talks the two sides are working toward signing a deal at a G20 meeting in Hamburg next week, but Juncker said further work was needed.
“There are still a few sticking points. I have therefore sent the European agriculture commissioner and the trade commissioner to Japan,” Juncker said.
Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem and Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan will arrive on Friday for talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
Clinching a deal would be a victory for free-trade advocates after US president Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership this year, dealing a possibly fatal blow to the mooted 12-nation deal.
Juncker said he wanted the negotiations to be finished before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds talks with Juncker and EU president Donald Tusk in Brussels on July 6.
“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.
“It will fully comply with all European rules, requirements and standards.”
Sweden’s Malmostroem tweeted: “Will be leaving to Tokyo tonight with Phil Hogan to try to finalise our trade negotiations and achieve political agreement.”
Kishida, who first announced the talks, warned the talks would be hard.
“I think they’re going to be very tough and difficult negotiations,” Kishida added.
“It’s not yet decided when we’ll reach a conclusion or how long we’ll be negotiating. We’d like to make the maximum use out of the time we’ve got.”
A European source told AFP that Malmstrom and Hogan’s visit suggests there are still some political issues to work through.
‘Deal not imminent’
“If they’re going to Tokyo it’s an important signal” but it doesn’t mean a deal is imminent, the source added.
Tariffs on European cheese have been a key sticking point.
Brussels wants Japan to eliminate its 30 percent tariffs on some EU-made cheese, while Tokyo wants duties cut on cars which it exports to the 28-member bloc.
Any deal they reach would cover some 28 percent of global GDP.
The EU’s recent history however points to the difficulties it has in agreeing trade deals.
Last year the giant CETA trade deal with Canada nearly sank when the small Belgian region of Wallonia threatened to veto it, before eventually relenting.
Wallonia’s regional chief, Paul Magnette, tweeted on Thursday: “You liked CETA? You’ll love JEFTA!” (Japan-EU Free Trade Agreement).
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