TOKYO: Japan on Friday welcomed the green light given by the European Union to launching negotiations on a massive free trade deal between the two economies.
The long-awaited move by EU trade ministers was hailed as particularly good news for Japanese automakers, who have struggled with the shrinking domestic market, a strong yen and a bitter island row with China.
"Acting on the principle of competition and cooperation, Japan's motor industry has, over many years, cultivated an ever-growing number of fruitful partnerships with European automobile manufacturers," said a statement by Akio Toyoda, Toyota president and chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufactures Association.
"We are convinced that an EU-Japan FTA will provide a key impetus in promoting robust trade, investment and industrial cooperation between the two sides... fuelling growth and expansion of the automobile industries in both Japan and Europe."
Japan's Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba also welcomed the development, saying "the economic partnership agreement will benefit economic growth both for Japan and Europe."
European car and car part manufacturers are fearful the removal of tariffs will lead to a rise in Japanese car imports, pointing to a previous trade deal with South Korea that bumped up sales of their vehicles in Europe.
EU trade ministers pledged to safeguard Europe's struggling carmakers, but auto companies have slammed the envisaged deal as what the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association dubbed "a one-way street' for Japanese cars.