February 28, 2018 / 3:39 PM / 19 days ago

EU, Japan seek to push through trade deal before Brexit

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union and Japan are rushing to ensure that their planned free trade agreement can enter force early in 2019, ideally before Britain leaves the EU, the lead negotiators of both sides said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: EU chief negotiator and Director General of the Directorate General for Trade Raffaele Mauro Petriccione (L) meets with Japan's chief negotiator Yoichi Suzuki, Representative of the Government of Japan for Free Trade and Economic Partnership Agreements Negotiations, at their Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement meeting at Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, Japan June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Japan’s ambassador for international economic affairs, Yoichi Suzuki, said the deal agreed by negotiators last year would likely be presented to the Japanese parliament later in 2018, allowing ratification by the end of the year.

“It’s a very high priority that it enter force before the end of March 2019,” he said at a conference at the CEPS think tank in Brussels, referring to the date when Britain is set to leave the EU.

If a deal entered into force before Brexit, it could apply automatically to Britain during a post-March 2019 transition period of around two years. Otherwise, it might not.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told a news conference on Tuesday that EU and Japanese leaders might be able to sign a deal by the summer.

Mauro Petriccione, who was the EU’s chief negotiator with Japan, told a conference on Wednesday that the European Commission was pulling out all the stops to secure a summer signing.

“We have been cutting all administrative blockages and using all resources. There’s a reasonable expectation that it could enter force early next year,” he said.

The deal still needs to be translated into all the languages of the EU. Petriccione said translators had been given just two months to do this, compared with a normal seven to eight months.

The process would be far faster than is normally the case, particularly for the EU, which has yet to implement a deal agreed in 2014 with Singapore and saw heated debate over a trade pact with Canada struck in 2013. The latter finally took effect in September 2017.

Japan is taking a close look at Brexit and future relations between Britain and the EU because many of its carmakers serve the European market from British bases and rely on free and frictionless trade between Britain and the continent.

Suzuki said that, if an EU-Japan deal were in force in Britain during the Brexit transition phase, it would buy Japan more time to establish a separate trade deal with Britain.

In the EU, rapid implementation will rely on relatively swift debate and approval by the bloc’s 28 member states and by the European Parliament.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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