June 26, 2017 / 2:12 PM / 25 days ago

EU in "intense phase" of Japan trade talks, hopes for deal soon

3 Min Read

European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom gestures during a news conference in Mexico City, Mexico May 8, 2017.Edgard Garrido

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is in a "very intense phase" in its negotiations for a free-trade agreement with Japan and could sign a provisional deal as early as next week, EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said on Monday.

A trade accord with the world's third-largest economy would be the European Union's biggest trade scalp to date. The EU has forecast trade between the two could increase by a third, boosting the EU economy by 0.8 percent and Japan's by 0.3 percent over the long term.

The EU's chief negotiator has been in Tokyo for the past two weeks seeking to conclude talks.

"We are in a very intense phase of our negotiation and hope to close an agreement in principle very soon. This is an agreement that would help us shape globalisation in line with our values," Malmstrom said.

EU and Japanese officials have mooted the upcoming G20 leaders summit in Hamburg on July 7-8 as the moment for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and top EU officials to sign an initial agreement.

"The date of the G20 has been mentioned... It would be an opportunity perhaps to announce if it's ready... It's an indicative date, but if it's not ready, we'll have to wait," Malmstrom said.

From 2013 until 2016, the EU's principal trade focus was the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States, but that has been put on hold since the election victory of protectionist-leaning U.S. President Donald Trump. Now the partners of choice are Japan, Mexico and the Mercosur bloc of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

"In the current international environment, an ambitious agreement between the EU and Japan would send a powerful signal to the rest of the world that two of the largest economies are ready to stand up against protectionism," Malmstrom said.

Japan and the EU launched negotiations in 2013 and held an 18th round of negotiations in April, but are still to achieve breakthroughs in key areas, such as Japan scrapping tariffs on EU cheese and wine and Europe giving greater access for Japanese cars and car parts.

Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.

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