BRUSSELS, June 25 The European Union agreed on
Wednesday that Japan had made enough progress towards opening
its markets for the two sides to begin a sixth round of
free-trade talks next month, despite some concerns over Tokyo's
stance on railway procurement.
The European Commission said in a statement that EU member
states had backed the continuation of negotiations and that the
next round would take place in Tokyo in the week of July 7.
EU members, doubtful of Japan's willingness to bring down
barriers to European exports, had told EU trade negotiators to
pull the plug on talks after a year if Japan did not show
sufficient progress in areas from food to cars.
A document seen last month by Reuters showed that the EU
found Tokyo had complied with, or was in the process of
complying with, most of its commitments to help reach a trade
pact that could encompass a third of global economic output.
The Commission said on Wednesday that a number of member
states had expressed concerns about one aspect of the talks,
The EU says that the use of an "operational safety clause"
in much procurement by JR (Japan railways) and urban transport
operators is in practice a means of hindering foreign suppliers.
According to a report commissioned for the Commission in
2009, EU producers of railway equipment could boost exports to
Japan by 600 million euros ($816 million) if the market opened.
Some 60 percent of world production of railway equipment and
parts takes place in the European Union, with operations of
Siemens, Alstom and Bombardier.
Potentially one of the world's biggest trade deals, an
EU-Japan agreement could lift the economic output of both sides
by almost 1 percent, according to the European Commission, at a
time when both are struggling to generate growth.
Japan already has a zero rate of duties on EU imports, such
as cars and whisky, and low tariffs on many other goods.
However, Europe says regulation on everything from music to
automobiles is a clear barrier to trade.
($1 = 0.7355 Euros)
(Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Hugh Lawson)