Brussels calls for EU-Japan free trade negotiations
(BRUSSELS) - The EU's executive on Wednesday called for the launch of talks to ink a mega free trade deal between the European Union and Japan, which together account for more than a third of world output.
"The European Commission has today decided to ask member states for the green light to open free trade negotiations with a major political and economic partner for us: Japan," said Europe's trade commissioner Karel De Gucht.
De Gucht said a free trade deal, or FTA, could increase the EU's gross domestic product by almost one percentage point, boost EU exports to Japan by one third, and add 400,000 extra jobs across the 27-nation bloc.
"Let's be clear. We need these jobs, and we need this growth in the current economic climate," he said.
"The ball is now in the member states' court," he added. "I would ask them to seize this opportunity and to give the Commission a mandate to start negotiations soon."
De Gucht said a number of European industries supported a deal tying the globe's largest market to the world's third biggest economy. Among the sectors he cited were agri-food, drinks, chemicals, ICT, services ad pharmaceuticals.
And Britain gave its immediate support, with Employment Minister Norman Lamb welcoming a deal as "a significant economic prize for Europe", worth up to 33 billion euros ($40.4 billion) a year in GDP and an extra 43 billion euros a year in additional export opportunities."
"We hope the mandate can be agreed rapidly in the Council and that negotiations can open before the end of the year," he said.
But De Gucht acknowledged continuing worries over Japan's government procurement policy as well as a mountain of non-tariff obstacles in accessing the Japanese market.
The issue triggered a lively debate between EU commissioners, an EU source said, with France's Michel Barnier, in charge of financial services, Italy's Antonio Tajani (industry) and German Gunther Oettinger (energy) all expressing doubts.
De Gucht however said that an FTA with South Korea in October 2010 had helped EU automobile exports and urged member states not to link problems in that sector with FTAs when they discuss the issue, probably at a summit in October.
He added: "After one year of starting the negotiations, we will take stock on the progress Japan has made on dismantling the nontariff barriers as set out in the roadmap we have agreed together.
"If the implementation has not been satisfactory, I will stop the negotiations," he said.
De Gucht added that he had also made it clear that Europe would not reduce tariffs before Japan delivered on regulatory barriers.
Struggling to boost growth and create jobs, the EU is looking to accelerate trade deals worldwide, in particular with emerging economies.
De Gucht said that should the EU conclude all the FTAs currently being negotiated, it would boost EU gross domestic product (GDP) by more than two percent, or 250 billion euros ($306 billion).
That would be the equivalent of economies the size of members such as Austria or Denmark.
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