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japan-euTOKYO: Japan and the European Union were readying to launch talks on a free trade agreement Monday, with a telephone summit expected to be held later in the day, the EU's trade chief said.

The talks, from 6:30 pm (0930 GMT), are in place of a face to face meeting between EU Council and Commission heads Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which were shelved while Europe grappled with debt problems in Cyprus.

"I am glad that a telephone call between Presidents Barroso and Van Rompuy (and Abe) will take place later today with the view to launch the negotiations for a free trade agreement," Karel De Gucht, EU Trade Commissioner said.

The EU and Japan combined account for around a third of global economic activity, De Gucht said, yet a phalanx of barriers has hamstrung trade.

"Only three percent of European foreign direct investment is in Japan, this shows the EU-Japan trade and investment relationship could and should be greatly enhanced," he said.

The EU is feverishly trying to broker bilateral trading agreements with leading world economies the United States and Japan as it looks to boost its sometimes struggling economy.

Japan is a big prize for exporters, who complain that its large market is heavily weighted in favour of domestic producers, with sometimes eye-watering tariffs and a range of other barriers to entry, which it is seen as unwilling to remove.

De Gucht on Monday said any talks had to produce substantial progress on the tariff issue within 12 months.

"From the European perspective, it's clear to me that dismantling the persistent non-tariff barriers will be the key for the success of the negotiations.

"In order to convince the sceptics, we need to include a review clause in the mandate.

"After one year from starting off the negotiations, I will take stock of the progress made by Japan in implementing the road maps on non-tariff barriers and... procurement, and if the conclusion would be that the progress has not been satisfactory, the negotiations would be suspended."

The telephone conversation will also include discussion on the outcome of crisis talks on Cyprus.

Nicosia, the European Union, European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and eurozone leaders have agreed a deal that will mean the breaking up of the island's second largest lender Laiki (Popular Bank), and a hefty levy on deposits above 100,000 euros ($130,000).

Markets feared that failure to reach a deal would have seen the tiny Mediterranean country exit the 17-nation eurozone, with the fallout spreading to other troubled bloc members including Italy and Spain.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference the telephone talks would help "secure close communications between the two leaderships".

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2013

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