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The European Parliament on Wednesday approved an accord with Japan that has been dubbed the world’s biggest trade deal, covering economies that represent a third of the world’s GDP.
The agreement will go into effect in February and was celebrated as a victory for Europe as a free trade champion in the face of US President Donald Trump’s protectionism and Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
“Our economic partnership with Japan -- the biggest trade zone ever negotiated -- is now very close to becoming a reality,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said.
Talking to AFP before lawmakers voted by 474 votes to 152 to back the deal, Malmstrom called it “a symbol, a signal” and added: “We’re showing that for our part, we’re in favour of open but regulated trade.”
The deal was confirmed even as British Prime Minister Theresa May defended her faltering attempt to negotiate Britain’s orderly departure from the European Union before a boisterous House of Commons.
But, ironically, some EU leaders see the wide-ranging deal they have agreed with far-off Japan as a possible model for future commercial relations with the United Kingdom, once it formally quits the bloc.
“Everything is uncertain with the United Kingdom for the moment, but one day or another we’ll have to negotiate something,” Malmstrom said, predicting a British deal would “go even further” than Japan’s.
Covering more than 630 million people and economies that add up to around a third of global output, the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement has been under discussion since 2013. When it goes into effect it will regulate almost all commerce between the Asian giant and the 27 remaining EU economies and, according to Malmstrom, will benefit in particular European farmers. The pro-business lobby welcomed the deal.
“Approving the EU-Japan EPA, the European Parliament delivers on what business and citizens need in a time of political and economic uncertainty,” said BusinessEurope Director General Markus Beyrer.
“This agreement is projected to increase exports between the two economies by 34 percent for the EU and 29 percent for Japan, liberalising up to 99 percent of bilateral trade,” he argued.
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