Japan, EU to launch free trade talks next week

Japan and the European Union will hold a summit next week at which they are expected to formally launch negotiations on a huge free trade deal, officials said on Friday.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso will visit Tokyo for a one-day summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, foreign ministry officials said.

The two sides are expected to reach a final accord that will see the launch of long-awaited negotiations aiming to liberalise trade and remove barriers on services and investment, the officials said.

Ahead of the planned summit on Monday, the two European leaders are scheduled to make a speech before Japanese business leaders in Tokyo at noon.

The EU and Japanese leaders also plan to begin separate talks on a "political accord" featuring cooperation on security, the environment and science and technology, local media said.

EU trade ministers agreed in November to launch free trade talks with Tokyo while pledging to safeguard Europe's struggling carmakers.

European car and car parts manufacturers fear the removal of tariffs will lead to a rise in Japanese car imports, pointing to a previous trade deal with South Korea that bumped up sales of South Korean vehicles in Europe.

EU trade ministers have pledged to safeguard struggling carmakers but auto companies have criticised the envisaged deal, with the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association calling it "a one-way street' for Japanese cars.

Abe said this month that he wanted to take Japan into negotiations on a huge Pacific-wide free trade deal, but faces opposition from the powerful farming sector who have long sheltered behind sky-high tariffs.