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Japan, EU agree to speed up talks over stalled free trade deal

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Japan, EU agree to speed up talks over stalled free trade deal

Tusk - Abe - Juncker - Photo EU Council

(TOKYO) - Japan and the European Union on Friday agreed to speed up talks over a long-stalled Free Trade Agreement, while voicing concerns over China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk in the latest annual get-together between the leaders of the two big trading partners.

"In the area of economy, we agreed to accelerate the Japan-EU EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) negotiations, aiming to reach a basic agreement within this year while stressing both speed and quality," Abe told reporters following the summit.

Japan and the European Union have agreed to work towards a multi-billion-euro free trade deal linking the world's third biggest economy to the bloc of 28 member states -- the world's largest market.

But negotiations have been stymied over the thorny issue of tariffs and trade barriers.

The EU wants progress on non-tariff barriers in certain Japanese markets, while a key issue for Tokyo is that Brussels dismantle customs duties on Japanese automobiles -- a sensitive topic for big car producer and exporter Germany.

Japan is also involved in talks over a Pacific-wide free trade deal, called the TPP, which is currently bogged down in the domestic politics of the United States, its chief proponent.

In the joint statement, the two sides expressed concerns over China's aggressive actions to assert its claims in the South China Sea.

"We continue to observe the situation in the East and South China Sea and are concerned by any unilateral actions that change the status quo and increase tensions," the statement said.

Beijing is rapidly building artificial islands in the disputed waters, fuelling tension with Washington as well as with regional neighbours.

The three men also confirmed continuing close cooperation over major global issues such as Ukraine, where pro-Russian forces are waging an insurgency in the country's east.

"Japan and the European Union are united now in support for the Ukrainian people, and in our commitment to uphold the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," Tusk said.

Abe reportedly plans to visit Kiev and meet Ukraine's pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko next month when he goes to the Group of Seven summit in Germany.

The Japan-EU Summit comes as finance ministers from the G7 leading industrialised nations met in the German city of Dresden and discussed the possibility of Greece quitting the eurozone.

EU-Japan relations and the 23rd EU-Japan Summit


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