BRUSSELS: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the European Union's top officials will join forces Thursday and approve the broad outline of a landmark trade deal that would challenge the protectionism championed by US President Donald Trump.
European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem on Tuesday announced the two sides had reached a "political agreement" on the EU Japan deal, after eleventh hour talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Brussels. Abe was also set to meet NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday at the alliance headquarters in Brussels amid rising tensions after a missile launch by North Korea.
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The breakthrough capped four years of talks and came ahead of a G20 meeting in Germany at which Trump is expected to defend his protectionist stance on trade. Abe is set to officially rubberstamp the preliminary accord at a meeting on Thursday with EU Council President Donald Tusk and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
"Right in time for the G20 summit in Hamburg I believe we will lay down an economic partnership with Japan," Juncker told Germany Passauer Neue Presse on Thursday.
"It will be an important signal that we take these matters very seriously and that we are committed to free and fair trade," he added.
Juncker also insisted that the deal would be a major boon for European farmers who would gain access to a huge market "that appreciates European wine and our 200 protected regional products".
The EU and Japanese economies combined account for more than a quarter of global output making the deal one of the biggest trade pacts ever attempted. The "political agreement" on the trade deal covers some of the accord's toughest aspects but leaves aside details that could still prove difficult.
At the heart of the deal is an agreement for the EU to open its market to the world-leading Japanese auto industry, with Tokyo in return scrapping barriers to EU farming products, especially dairy.
"After hard negotiations, the EU and Japan are sending a very positive signal to the world," said Markus J. Beyrer, Director General of BusinessEurope, a Brussels-based lobby.
"We are asking G20 to take action against protectionism and this is a concrete example of how this could be done," he added.
Left untouched for now are the controversial investment courts that have stoked opposition to trade deals in the EU nations, including Germany and France.
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Activists Thursday objected to the mooted deal calling it a dangerous sop to multinationals.
"This trade deal, and others like it, smack of corporate protectionism at the expense of democracy and the environment," Greenpeace trade campaigner Kees Kodde.
Last year the EU's giant CETA trade deal with Canada nearly sank on such concerns when the small Belgian region of Wallonia threatened to veto it, before eventually relenting.
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