Japan wants free-trade pact with EU
Japan hopes to launch talks with the European Union on a free-trade agreement next spring but fears that disagreements among EU member states could delay the start of discussions, according to a senior Japanese official.
Japan would like to open the talks at the next bilateral summit, scheduled for April or May 2011, but the official said that the EU was having “difficulty building a consensus”.
Japan is the EU’s second-most important trade partner in Asia, after China and ahead of South Korea, with which the EU will sign a trade pact tomorrow (6 October). The difficulties in getting member states’ agreement to the Korea trade deal was seen as an indication of the kind of problems any deal with Japan could face inside the EU. Japan has a far bigger economy and export sector than South Korea.
Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister, discussed the matter with José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, on the sidelines of the two-day Asia-EU summit in Brussels that wraps up later today.
Any talks are expected to last several years. Japan’s powerful agriculture sector has often been an obstacle to freer trade. Very little of Japan’s trade is covered by trade agreements but it is negotiating pacts with India and Australia.
Also during the summit, the EU and Malaysia announced the launch of free-trade talks later this year. Talks with Vietnam and Thailand are to follow soon, while talks with Singapore began earlier this year. Last December, the EU decided to negotiate free-trade agreements with individual members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), having made little progress in trade talks with the entire bloc.
Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister, and Wen Jiabao, his Chinese counterpart, met in Brussels yesterday for the first time since bilateral relations took a turn for the worse in September after a Chinese fishing trawler collided with Japanese coastguard vessels near a chain of disputed islands. Both sides reaffirmed their “strategic partnership”, but also stuck to their claim of sovereignty over the islands in the East China Sea.