EU, Japan sign trade deal in 'message against protectionism'

"The EU and Japan showed an undeterred determination to lead the world as flag-bearers for free trade", Abe said at a joint news conference with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Abe, standing alongside the two European Union officials, said the agreement, "shows the world the unshaken political will of Japan and the European Union to lead the world as the champions of free trade at a time when protectionism has spread".

The deal eliminates about 99% of the tariffs on Japanese goods to the EU, but remaining at around 94% for European imports into Japan for now and rising to 99% over the years.

The deal, which is the largest-ever negotiated by the European Union, will unite about 600 million people across both markets.

EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker land in Japan after talks in Beijing, where they urged global trade cooperation and warned against trade wars.

Speaking in China on Monday, Mr Tusk said: "It is the common duty of Europe and China, but also America and Russian Federation, not to destroy [the global trade order] but to improve it, not to start trade wars which turned into hot conflicts so often in our history".

Besides the latest deal with the EU, Japan is working on other trade agreements, including a far-reaching trans-Pacific deal.

The European Union yesterday called on the United States, China and Russian Federation to work together to cool worsening global trade tension, warning that they could spiral into violent "conflict and chaos".

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been scheduled to sign the deal in Brussels last week, but cancelled his trip after devastating floods that killed more than 220 people.

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While the two USA allies reached a deal of their own to open up trade, the Trump administration has repeatedly doubled down on its decision to hit the EU, Mexico, Canada and China with steep tariffs.

Juncker said the deal sent a message that "trade is about more than tariffs and barriers, it is about values".

Japanese vehicle and auto parts makers are also expected to increase their sales to Europe, where they have lagged behind European rivals.

The EU - the world's biggest single market with 28 countries and 500 million people - is trying to boost alliances in the face of Trump's protectionist administration.

Both Japan and the European Union, having seen Trump pull back from free trade relationships, are keen to show they remain committed to removing barriers they say hamper growth, analysts said.

The difference is due to exceptions such as rice, a product that's culturally and politically sensitive and has been protected for decades in Japan.

The US this month imposed 25 percent tariffs on $34bn of Chinese goods to lower the US trade deficit, and China quickly retaliated with an increase in tariffs on US goods.

"Today's signature of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement is a landmark moment for global trade", he said. Japan will get cheaper cheese, such as Parmesan, gouda and cheddar, as well as chocolate and biscuits. The partnership includes Australia, Mexico, Vietnam and other nations, although the USA has withdrawn.

The imported wine and cheese could hurt sales by Japanese wineries and dairies, but Japanese consumers have historically coveted such European products.

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