The presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso, will be in Japan on Monday (25 March) to launch talks on a trade deal that the European Union believes could expand its economy by 0.8%.
The EU's member states gave the European Commission a negotiating mandate in November, but the launch of trade talks had been left for a summit with the new Japanese government brought to power by elections in December.
The intervening months have been marked by strong public and parliamentary opposition in Japan to trade liberalisation, which has focused on whether a trade deal being contemplated with the United States will demand the opening up of agricultural markets. Agriculture is a less prominent and less controversial element in the EU talks.
The principal issues for the EU are regulations for cars and access to public contracts. Japan has a range of lower-profile concerns about tariffs and regulations.
A Japanese official said that there were “no obvious differences” between Shinzo Abe's government and its predecessor on the EU trade deal.
The leaders are also expected to discuss concerns raised by competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. Abe, a right-winger, has adopted a more forceful tone and approach than his predecessor. The regional tensions have led to pressure for the EU to become more engaged diplomatically.