EU ministers have given the green light for the bloc's executive to start negotiations with Japan on a free trade agreement. Special caveats are to ensure that the European car industry will not be harmed.
Trade ministers from the 27-member European Union on Thursday agreed to authorize the EU executive, the European Commission, to start negotiations with Japan on a free trade agreement.
Such a bilateral accord would bring together two trading partners which account for a third of global economic output. EU estimates claim the deal could result in some 400,000 new jobs being created in Europe alone.
Japan is the EU's third-largest trading partner after the US and China, accounting for 150 billion euros ($195 billion) annually in goods and services.
Protracted talks ahead
While welcoming the mandate to negotiate, analysts said talks might last for several years, given the complexity of issues to be debated.
EU trade ministers said special stipulations would have to be agreed on to make sure that Europe's car industry was not dealt a major blow as a result of a free trade zone. France and Italy in particular had been worried about potentially strengthened competition from Japan, but Paris and Rome were given safeguards to defend their interests in the planned deal.
A board member of the Federation of German Industry (BDI), Stefan Mair called on the European Commission to help improve German companies' access to what he called "a rather closed Japanese market."
"We appeal to the Japanese government to remove existing trade obstacles," Mair said.
Endeavors towards an EU-Japanese free trade agreement are part of European ambitions to make up for stagnant demand on the continent with free-trade pacts with major economies, including the US and China.
hg/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)