The EU and Japan began a first round of talks Monday to clinch one of the world's biggest free trade deals in hopes of providing a boost for their faltering economies.
Both sides have highlighted the benefits of an accord covering some 30 percent of global economic output and 40 percent of trade while cautioning that the negotiations will be difficult as sensitive interests are at stake.
Head EU negotiator Mauro Petriccione said "we have been looking forward to this negotiation for a long time ... it took some time to arrange.
"We know it will be difficult but ... we understand each other, we are very confident," Petriccione added, sitting across from his Japanese counterpart, Jun Yokota.
"We are very happy to be in Brussels," Yokota said, describing it as a "very important moment."
"We are looking forward to engaging with you in order to produce a meaningful bilateral deal."
Petriccione said a second round of talks was expected in June in Tokyo, followed by a third later in the year, with the schedule likely to run at four or five sessions annually after that.
Both Petriccione and Yokota said it was unreasonable to give any end date for reaching a conclusion -- analysts suggest the talks could take up to five years.
Japan has been in the doldrums since the collapse of its 'bubble economy' in the early 1990s, with successive governments failing to get it moving again despite spending trillions.
Europe too has been limping along, holed below the water line by its debilitating debt crisis, with governments desperate to find growth and jobs.
As well as Japan, the EU is also about to begin negotiations on Free Trade Agreements with the United States while talks are ongoing with Canada and India, as well as the Mercosur countries of Latin America among others.
Japan too is involved in other talks, most recently winning Washington's approval to join the 11-nation, US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership.