After years of talks, Japan, EU near 'broad agreement' on free trade pact

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida attends a joint news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tokyo, Japan, December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and the European Union are nearing a broad agreement on a free trade pact, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and a senior EU trade official agreed on Wednesday, the foreign ministry said.

Japan and the European Union have been negotiating an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) since 2013 to promote trade and investment by eliminating tariffs and improving investment rules.

Kishida spoke by phone with European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom.

“Both shared understanding that a broad agreement is within reach,” a ministry official told Reuters, quoting a statement issued after the conversation.

Signing an EPA with the European Union, which comprises roughly 10 percent of Japan’s total foreign trade, is among the key goals of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” stimulus programs and growth strategy.[nL3N1JC5W2]

The EU-Japan deal has taken on greater importance since U.S. President Donald Trump took the United States out of the multi-member Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, leaving the remaining 11 members including Tokyo to figure out what to do without the group’s biggest economy.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Linda Sieg; Editing by Nick Macfie