The European Union (EU) and Japan sought to conclude their free trade deal in 2016, which has missed the deadline of last year due to lack of breakthrough in tariff liberalization, a EU statement said Wednesday.
The pledge came out of the meetings between EU leaders and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe late Tuesday, who is paying a week-long visit to several European countries and Russia to prepare for the G7 summit slated on May 26 and 27 in Japan.
The EU, which again downgraded its economic growth forecast on Tuesday, said the continent was faced with a number of external and internal risks and therefore needed to step up efforts to promote growth and investment, including accelerating its free trade agreement (FTA) talks with Japan.
"Our negotiations have progressed but now we must finish the job," the statement quoted Jean-Claude Juncker as saying, who is the president of the European Commission, EU's executive arm.
Juncker voiced optimism over conclusion of the FTA talks which have failed to be finalized in 2015 as scheduled. "I am confident we can do this before the end of this year," he said.
The EU-Japan FTA talks came to a deadlock in 2015 when Japan reportedly gave priority to negotiations on landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with major trade partner the United States and other Pacific Rim countries but refused to offer EU concessions on tariff liberalization.
After the TPP agreement was signed in February 2016, Tokyo has returned to the table with Brussels. The two sides held the 16th round of negotiations in Tokyo last month.
The commission said the latest round addressed issues such as trade in goods, services and trade barriers, but also investment and public procurement, however, reports have pointed out that the talks still failed to produce breakthrough.
Their key outstanding issues include notably market access for goods, non-tariff measures, services, investment, public procurement, Geographical Indications, SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) and Trade and Sustainable Development, according to an overview issued by the commission in March.
The overview also showed strong confidence as saying the FTA agreement could be concluded in 2016 "provided that the substance is right and that the level of ambition of the agreement is sufficiently high."
The next round of talks is scheduled to take place in Brussels in September, the commission said.
Japan is the EU's second biggest trading partner in Asia after China.