European Union and Japan reach free trade deal

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström chats with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida | Pool

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström chats with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida | Pool

EU Council President Donald Tusk and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet Thursday and shake hands on the landmark deal, which took four years to negotiate.

On the eve of a G20 summit with Trump, the leaders of Europe and Japan signed a free trade agreement covering more than 600 million people, 30% of the global economy and 40% of total world trade.

She argued: "Together with the EU- Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, today sends a powerful signal that worldwide cooperation is the way to tackle global challenges and an important stand against protectionism".

The compromise would greatly reduce Japanese tariffs on imports of European cheese over 15 years and scrap EU tariffs on Japanese cars over seven years, one official said.

"There's no protection in protectionism", he quipped.

"We did it", Tusk announced following the signing Thursday morning.

"Some are saying that the time of isolationism and disintegration is coming again, we are demonstrating that this is not the case", said Tusk.

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The hard-won deal marks a big win for free trade two days before a G-20 summit in Germany in which US President Donald Trump is expected to defend his "America First" protectionist stance.

The agreement will eliminate $1.14 billion in Japanese customs duties, and is designed in part to accelerate European exports of food, chemicals and medical devices to Japan.

According to the European Commission, a deal would result in the removal of nearly all customs duties between the EU and Japan, worth up to EUR1bn (USD1.1bn) a year. It was a blow to Abe and his party, who had invested much political capital in pushing the Pacific agreement forward.

"I have constantly tried to explain the significance of the TPP to President Trump". He also vowed to renegotiate NAFTA and slammed the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Negotiators hope to wrap up the issue in a few months.

Not quite. The biggest issue that has not yet been agreed on is how to ensure that investors have a way to resolve disputes arising as a result of the deal.

Juncker said he made it clear that private tribunals have no place in deciding on matters of public interest. "This has created a whole new urgency for the European Union and Japan".

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"Both ideas are on the table".

"We confirmed the achievement of a broad accord", Kishida told reporters after the meeting.

For the European Union side, EPA negotiations with the United States that began in 2013 have been effectively suspended since last autumn due to disagreements over food safety standards and other issues.

Juncker said they will aim to reach a final agreement and put the pact into force in early 2019.

How long did it take and when does it start?

Leaders also reflected on the political context, given the looming Brexit negotiations.

The use of the term "Global Europe" was interpreted by many seasoned political observers as a mocking reference to Prime Minister Theresa May's use of the term "global Britain" to describe the UK's future post-Brexit.

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During his discussions with Juncker and Tusk, Japan's prime minister insisted that Japanese companies present in the United Kingdom need "transparency and predictability" during the period leading up to Brexit.

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