EU, Japan to begin FTA talks

Updated: 2011-05-30 07:45

By Fu Jing (China Daily)

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BRUSSELS - The European Union and Japan agreed on Saturday to start talks on a free-trade agreement (FTA) to inject fresh impetus into the world's third-largest economy.

The announcement was made at a one-day EU-Japan summit in Brussels after European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso reaffirmed the EU-Japan partnership with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

"We have taken an important step in our trade relationship. We have set the course towards a free-trade agreement between the (European) Union and Japan," said Van Rompuy. "We still have a long way to go, but the objective is now clear."

Before the meeting, the two sides set three major goals for the event - bilateral cooperation on nuclear safety, strengthening mutual economic and trade relations, and a reaffirmation of mutual solidarity.

"I am glad that today, we reached all three goals," said Van Rompuy.

The FTA talks will cover issues including tariffs, non-tariff measures, services, investment, intellectual property rights, competition and public procurement.

Following Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in March, Europe moved to meet Japanese calls for an easing of restrictions on food imports while pledging to work together to promote tighter international standards for nuclear safety.

"Japan is safe and open for business," said Barroso.

The economic fallout from the quake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown has accelerated Japan's drive to win a trade deal with the 27-nation bloc of half-a-billion people, which last year signed up to its first ever FTA in Asia with South Korea.

Hailing Saturday's accord, Kan said: "I'm convinced this will lead to a far-reaching economic partnership agreement."

With bilateral trade already at 110 billion euros ($157 billion) a year, tackling all obstacles to free trade would release a "big potential" for business on both sides, said Barroso.

Prompted by Britain, Europe's leaders in March called for FTA talks to aid Japan - but on the condition that Tokyo lift restrictions to trade.

Van Rompuy, known for his hobby of writing Japanese-style haiku mini-poems, expressed his hopes for Japan by reading out his latest haiku to Kan.

"The three disasters; Storms turn into a soft wind; A new, humane wind."

Kan replied: "This is a piece of haiku that really touches your heart."


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