eu (european) trade.jpg
Photograph: cer.org.uk

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the European Union's top officials pressed Tuesday for a conclusion of free trade negotiations between the two sides by the end of 2016, a year later than initially planned.

The EU began to negotiate a free trade deal with Japan in 2013, in the hope of striking an ambitious deal that could boost exports and spur economic growth and job creation on both sides.

But the talks, which both sides had initially hoped to conclude last year, have been bogged down by issues such as EU tariffs on Japanese vehicle imports and barriers to trade created by Japanese rules on car safety standards, among other things.

During a visit to Brussels on Tuesday, Abe said that Japan and the EU must "continue to work vigorously" towards concluding a deal in principle "at an earliest possible timing during this year."

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was confident that this could be done, while EU President Donald Tusk said that "both sides need to demonstrate political will" in order to strike an ambitious agreement.

The 17th round of negotiations is scheduled to take place in Brussels in September, following talks in Tokyo last month.

Japan - the EU's second largest Asian trading partner behind China - is one of 12 Pacific Rim countries that struck a free trade agreement with the United States last year. The EU is currently negotiating its own mammoth deal with Washington.

Abe's visit to Brussels was part of a European tour in preparation for the G7 summit on May 26-27 that he will host in the Japanese region of Ise-Shima.

On Monday, the Japanese premier held talks with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and with French President Francois Hollande, while he is due to meet Angela Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday.

The G7 comprises Japan, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, with the EU also invited to attend meetings.

The G7 must "act in unison" to respond to challenges such as the decelerating global economy, terrorism, migration and "attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo by acts of coercion," Abe said.

Russia has been excluded from the group of leading economies since its annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014. Abe is due to hold a long-planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin before his return to Japan.

Earlier Tuesday, the premier held talks with Belgian King Philippe and with Prime Minister Charles Michel, who thanked Abe for his support following the March 22 terrorist attacks on Brussels, in which more than 30 people died in triple suicide bombings.

One Japanese citizen is still in hospital following the attacks, Michel said according to the Belga news agency.

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