The official go ahead for the EU-Japan free trade talks came during a telephone conversation on Monday between European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Announcing the talks to formally start in April, the three leaders said in a statement that the two sides would seek an agreement covering political, global and sectoral cooperation, adding that they were committed to the earliest possible conclusion of the talks.
"The agreement should be deep and comprehensive, addressing all issues of shared interest in order to stimulate economic growth both in Japan and the EU," the statement said.
Japan is the EU's seventh largest export market buying 69 billion euros ($89 billion) worth of European goods in 2011. The EU is the third biggest market for Japanese products, importing goods and services to the tune of 6.5 trillion yen (52 billion euros) last year.
However, trade between the two sides is hampered by a series of tariffs and restrictions, which, if overcome, could create additional economic growth of at least one percent, the EU's executive arm. the European Commission estimated.
"Only three percent of European foreign direct investment is in Japan. This shows the EU-Japan trade and investment relationship could and should be greatly enhanced," EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht told the AFP news agency.
Gucht also said that the talks were subject to a review after 12 months, in which they needed to produce substantial progress on non-tariff barriers and procurement for negotiations to continue.
"If the conclusion would be that the progress has not been satisfactory, the negotiations would be suspended," he said.
At the moment, the crisis-hit European Union is trying to broker bilateral trade agreements with a number of leading world economies, including the United States, as part of efforts to spur its struggling national economies.
uhe/pfd (Reuters, AFP, dpa)