TOKYO • Japan and the EU yesterday signed a sweeping free trade deal, saying they were sending a "clear message" against protectionism, as the US puts up barriers and threatens a trade war.
The agreement signed in Tokyo is the largest ever negotiated by the European Union and creates a massive free trade zone, eliminating tariffs for everything from Japanese cars to French cheese.
It also provides a stark counterpoint to US President Donald Trump's aggressive "America First" protectionism, which has seen Washington impose trade tariffs on allies and rivals alike.
"We are sending a clear message that we stand together against protectionism," European Council president Donald Tusk said after the agreement was signed.
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said that the signatories of the agreement were making "a statement about free and fair trade, we are showing that we are stronger and better off when we work together".
Mr Trump has unsettled America's allies and provoked the ire of its rivals with bombastic statements, hefty trade tariffs and threats of a trade war.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the deal "shows the world the unshaken political will of Japan and the EU to lead the world as the champions of free trade at a time when protectionism has spread".
Both sides to benefit
EU TARIFFS REMOVED
• 10 per cent on Japanese cars.
• 3 per cent on most car parts.
JAPANESE DUTIES REMOVED
• 15 per cent on EU wines.
• 30 per cent or more on EU cheese.
• Secure access to large public tenders in Japan.
PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, BLOOMBERG
Agreed last December, the deal is "the biggest ever negotiated by the European Union", according to commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas, and will create a free trade zone covering nearly one-third of the world's gross domestic product.
According to EU officials, the deal is expected to boost the bloc's economy by 0.8 per cent and Japan's by 0.3 per cent over the long term.
On Sunday, Mr Trump fuelled rising rancour among America's allies by labelling the EU, along with Russia and China, "a foe" of the United States, and repeating his assertion that the EU has "really taken advantage of us on trade".
Without mentioning Mr Trump by name, Mr Tusk, who speaks for the bloc's national leaders, made clear that the agreement was intended as a counterpoint to Washington's current trade policy.
"It's a light in the increasing darkness of international politics," he said. "We are sending a clear message that you can count on us, both Japan and the EU. We are predictable, responsible, and will continue defending a world order based on rules, freedom and transparency and common sense."
The deal removes EU tariffs of 10 per cent on Japanese cars and 3 per cent on most car parts. It would also scrap Japanese duties of some 30 per cent or more on EU cheese and 15 per cent on wines, and secure access to large public tenders in Japan.
The EU is seeking access to one of the world's richest markets, while Japan hopes to jump-start an economy that has struggled to find solid growth.
Europe's food sector is one of the biggest winners from the deal, which should allow it to capitalise on Japanese demand for high-quality cheese, chocolate, meat and pasta.
Japanese car and car parts makers are also expected to increase their sales to Europe, where they have lagged behind European rivals.
However, Japan's dairy industry is expected to lose market share to European products once tariffs of up to 40 per cent on some cheese imports start falling.
Japan and the EU also agreed yesterday to establish a regular dialogue on trade and economic policy, with the first meeting to be held before year's end.
Mr Junichi Sugawara, a senior research officer at Mizuho Research Institute, said Mr Trump's protectionism had "prompted Japan and the EU to speed up negotiations on the deal".
Mr Abe "has good relations with Trump, but in terms of trade, Japan has sided with the EU", he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS