At a meeting in Brussels, EU representatives and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to accelerate negotiations aimed at reaching a free trade agreement. Car industry standards are one of the sticking points.
"We confirmed the importance of an early conclusion, and 2015 is the target date for a basic agreement," Shinzo Abe told a joint press conference with European Council President Herman van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
The EU-Japan trade agreement, potentially one of the world's biggest, could boost the bloc's overall growth rate by up to 0.8 percent. It could create 420,000 jobs in the EU, according to the bloc's figures.
Exports to Japan could rise by a third, while Japan's exports to the EU could see a near 24-percent boost, according to the European Union data.
Europe's carmakers, however, are skeptical about Tokyo's commitment to reducing trade barriers. At present, their access to the Japanese market is hampered by what companies like PSA Peugeot Citroen and Fiat call "unfair requirements."
Europe's smaller cars are excluded from 40 percent of Japan's passenger car market, according to EU car industry association ACEA.
But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso says talks are unlikely to be suspended. "If, as I hope and expect, there will be no objections, there will be conditions to accelerate the course of negotiations," said on Wednesday. "We need to inject a high level of ambition across the board."
One year into the negotiations, EU member states are reviewing Japanese efforts to lift trade barriers such as differing industry standards. They have the option of ending the talks if there is too little progress.
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht is expected Thursday to brief ministers on the review, which is to be finalized in the coming weeks.
Progress also depends on promises made by Tokyo in a similar deal being negotiated with the United States.
The negotiations follow a decade of decline in trade between Japan and the EU. Japan's imports to the bloc more than halved between 2002 and 2013, according to EU data. As a result, Japan slipped from being the EU's fourth most important trading partner in 2002 down to seventh place in 2013, the figures show.
ng/sri (Reuters, dpa)