(Japan Economic Newswire Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and European Union leaders agreed Wednesday to push to conclude a free trade agreement by next year, and to cooperate in countering cyber attacks.
"We will negotiate intensively while aiming to achieve a broad (free trade) agreement in 2015," Abe said at a joint press conference following a summit with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at the EU headquarters in Brussels.
Meeting amid tensions triggered by the civil strife in Ukraine, the leaders also condemned Russia's intervention in the country, and called for dialogue with Moscow to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Japanese and EU officials have been negotiating the possible elimination or reduction of tariffs in trade liberalization talks launched in April last year.
Japan aims in particular to increase its auto and television exports to the 28 nations belonging to the European Union, while the bloc hopes to boost exports of such products as cheese and wine to Japan, and is also calling on Tokyo to remove nontariff barriers, including domestic rules on the safety of motor vehicles and medical equipment.
"We reaffirm the importance of...the early conclusion of a highly comprehensive and ambitious" free trade agreement, the leaders said in a joint statement released after the meeting.
The fifth round of talks ended last month but the two sides have yet to announce any specific achievements.
The leaders apparently want to accelerate the talks by confirming their commitment to an early conclusion of the free trade deal between the economies that account for 30 percent of global economy.
"We welcome the fact that market access offers have been exchanged on trade in goods, and that steady progress has been made in other areas as well," the statement said while alluding to the need for further efforts to narrow the differences in the areas of government procurement, trade in services and investment.
The EU nations are now studying whether to continue the negotiations by reviewing progress made in getting Tokyo to reduce trade barriers.
"Negotiations have now reached a critical phase," Van Rompuy said in written remarks following the summit. If the one-year review allows, "we must raise the level of ambition and bring these negotiations to a speedy and successful conclusion," he said.
Barroso said at the joint press conference he expects no particular opposition from EU member countries to continuing talks with Japan, expressing hope negotiations will accelerate.
Abe said Japan will seek free trade accords with major economies as part of the nation's efforts to stimulate growth. Japan is also engaged in negotiations with the United States and 10 other countries in pursuit of a Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
On cybersecurity, Japan and the European Union agreed to launch a dialogue to boost cooperation, the statement said.
"Facing more severe, widespread and globalized risks surrounding cyberspace and the need to protect human rights online, protection of a safe, open and secure cyberspace is needed," the leaders said.
The dialogue will follow similar consultations Japan has held with the United States, Britain and other countries. The move comes as Tokyo aims to proactively contribute to international rule-making over cyberspace.
Japan and the European Union will also hold an inaugural meeting in the latter half of this year in Tokyo of talks on the stable use of outer space, said the statement.
Promoting Japan's role in ensuring global peace and prosperity, Abe agreed with the EU leaders on joint drills of Japan's Self-Defense Forces and European military forces involved in antipiracy operations off Somalia as well as on cooperation in controlling exports of weapons or technologies that can be diverted to military use.
They severely criticized Russia for its annexation of Crimea, opposing any attempt to undermine Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The leaders pledged they will support the efforts to ensure a free and fair presidential election later this month in Ukraine.
Japan and the European Union "strongly condemn the illegal attempt to annex Crimea by Russia and do not recognize it," the statement said, prodding Russia and Ukraine to engage "in a meaningful dialogue" and urging Moscow not to take "any steps to further destabilize Ukraine."
The leaders called for ensuring freedom of navigation in and flight over the open seas, in an apparent criticism of China's unilateral declaration in November of an air defense identification zone overlapping Japanese airspace over a group of islands in the East China Sea, administered by Japan but also claimed by China.
At a separate press conference later in the day, Abe said
Japan aims to "contribute to solving the problem (in Ukraine) while maintaining dialogue with Russia."
The premier also said Japan and China should have dialogue without setting any preconditions as the two Asia neighbors have been at odds over the territorial row and differing views of wartime history. "My door for dialogue is always open. I hope China will take a similar attitude," he said.
Abe visited Belgium on the last leg of a nine-day trip to Europe, which also took him to Germany, Britain, Portugal, Spain and France.