EU set to make its mind up over trade talks with Japan

Wed Nov 28, 2012 8:46am EST
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* Japan is part of EU strategy to sign deals with world's top economies

* European industry and EU countries divided over the benefits of a deal

* EU could miss out as Japan shifts focus to its Pacific partners

By Robin Emmott and Kaori Kaneko

BRUSSELS/TOKYO, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Britain is trying to convince France and Italy to agree to negotiations with Japan to create a free-trade area with the European Union despite concerns that a deal would hurt the continent's weaker carmakers.

European free-trade advocates, including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden, want EU trade ministers on Thursday to formally ask the Commission - the EU executive - to start talks with Japan, the world's third-largest economy.

Paris and Rome, however, are determined to defend their carmakers against strengthened competition from Japan after a free-trade deal with South Korea was followed by rising car imports when it came into force in July 2011.

A deal between Europe and Japan would bring together two trading partners responsible for a third of global economic output, but because a deal would take several years to finalise, those pushing for an accord worry Japan could lose interest.

Japan is currently more focused on parliamentary elections due on Dec. 16, as well as on a Pacific free-trade area that Tokyo sees as a priority.   Continued...