Brussels, Belgium – The European Union and Japan will hold a summit on Thursday in hopes of clinching a far-reaching trade deal, EU President Donald Tusk said Tuesday.
The EU said in a statement that EU leaders and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “are expected to announce a political agreement” on the deal in Brussels, hoping to overcome final hurdles blocking a proposed Economic Partnership Agreement.
Japan and the EU have been working to reach an accord before a summit of the Group of 20 industrial nations later this week in Hamburg, Germany and to send a message in support of free trade, countering a U.S. backlash against broad trade pacts.
Tusk said in a tweet that the plan was “Ambitious free and fair trade deal in the making.”
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is planning to travel to Brussels on Wednesday to help smooth the way.
Kishida told reporters he hoped the two sides could reach a “basic agreement” after failing to bridge differences blocking a proposed Economic Partnership Agreement during last week’s negotiations in Tokyo.
“Based on the ministerial talks we had on June 30 and July 1, we are currently continuing tough negotiations,” Kishida said. “Although we cannot be too optimistic about the prospect of the talks, I strongly hope to strike a basic agreement on Japan-EU EPA this time around as I head into the talks.”
“I will work up until the last minute so that we can achieve the best results for our national interest,” he said, noting there were “sensitivities” on both sides.
The EU’s trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, said there was disagreement over “key technical issues, especially those referring to investment.”
Japanese officials have said the main sticking points are over ending tariffs on imports of cheese and autos.
A deal would require finessing Japan’s protections for its dairy farmers, whose home market is protected by tariffs of up to 40 per cent on processed cheese.
Both Japan and the EU have a tradition of protecting their politically powerful farm sectors, and dairy products are an especially sensitive issue for the EU, with its long traditions and half the world’s market share for cheese.
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.