Japan's Abe talks trade with EU chiefs ahead of US visit

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and European Council President Donald Tusk shake hands as they arrive for an EU-Japan summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, April 25, 2019. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and top EU officials are discussing trade, bilateral ties and North Korea. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, meets with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, and European Council President Donald Tusk, center, during an EU-Japan summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, April 25, 2019. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and top EU officials are discussing trade, bilateral ties and North Korea. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, Pool)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, talks to journalists during a joint news conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, and European Council President Donald Tusk following their meeting during an EU-Japan summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, April 25, 2019. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and top EU officials discussed trade, bilateral ties and North Korea. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, poses with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, and European Council President Donald Tusk during an EU-Japan summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, April 25, 2019. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and top EU officials are discussing trade, bilateral ties and North Korea. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, Pool)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks to journalists during a joint news conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk following their meeting during an EU-Japan summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, April 25, 2019. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and top EU officials discussed trade, bilateral ties and North Korea. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, waits as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, center, greets European Council President Donald Tusk during an EU-Japan summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, April 25, 2019. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and top EU officials are discussing trade, bilateral ties and North Korea. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, Pool)

BRUSSELS — Japan and the European Union committed Thursday to fair and open trade and to respect rules-based international commerce in the face of what they see as increasing trade protectionism, particularly in the United States.

At the talks in Brussels, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, EU Council President Donald Tusk and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker underlined their support for reforms at the World Trade Organization.

"The most important issue for the international community right now is to maintain the free-trade regime," Abe told reporters,

The Japanese leader is on a tour of Europe and North America to prepare to host a summit of the Group of 20 industrialized nations in Osaka in late June.

He said that a massive trade deal between Japan and the 28-nation bloc — which took effect in February and removes most of the 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) that EU companies pay in export duties to Japan — demonstrates their commitment "to maintain and develop the global free-trade regime against the global trends of protectionism."

"Restrictive measures are not in the interests of any country," said Abe, who was holding talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington on Friday. Trump has rolled back a number of trade agreements since he took office, and slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum from both Japan and the EU.

Juncker acknowledged that the world trade's governing body, the WTO, is in need of reform, but he said it remains "the best framework to guarantee the conditions for equal competition around the world."

Abe also shared his concerns with the Europeans that Britain might yet leave the EU without a divorce agreement, given the number of Japanese companies that set up shop in the U.K. because they saw it as a gateway to Europe.

"We welcome the fact that for the time being a no-deal Brexit is avoided," Abe said, and expressed hope that the Brexit process can proceed smoothly, with the EU and Britain "gathering their wisdom to overcome frustration."

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