Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a statement at the European Council in Brussels on March 21, 2017. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)
TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that Japan and the European Union (EU) had finalized negotiations on a free trade deal and aimed to implement it in early 2019.
Abe made the announcement after holding telephone talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to confirm the accord reached in Brussels.
The Japan-EU free trade talks, launched in April 2013, missed an initial goal of reaching a deal by the end of 2015, and were put off to 2017 due to difficulties in tariff negotiations on farm products, processed foods and automobiles.
The Japanese side has been seeking to remove tariffs imposed by the EU on Japanese cars and electronics, while the EU, for its part, wants Japan to scrap or lower its duties on agricultural products such as cheese, wine and pork.
The deal became more important to Japan after US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as Japan has hoped a free trade pact with the EU would help drive Trump back to the TPP or serve to make up for some loss caused by the failure of the TPP.
The two sides reached a broad agreement on the pact in July and have been discussing the specifics of the deal.
Japan will eliminate tariffs on 94 percent of the imports from the EU, including 82 percent on farm and fishery products, while the EU will eliminate tariffs on Japanese autos in the eighth year after implementation of the pact, local media quoted government sources as saying.
Japan is the EU's seventh largest overall trading partner, while the EU is Japan's third largest trading partner after China and the United States.
Total trade between Japan and the EU was approximately 16.2 trillion yen (around US$143.05 billion) in 2016, according to the Japanese government.