European Council President Donald Tusk (L), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pose for a picture at the European Council in Brussels, July 6, 2017. (Photos by AFP)
Japan and the European Union have forged a major free trade deal to create the world’s largest open economic zone, rebuking “protectionist” trade policies adopted by the US and the UK.
Japanese President Shinzo Abe and EU institutional chiefs Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled the agreement in Brussels on Thursday, on the eve of this year’s G20 summit in Germany.
Expected to go into effect in early 2019, the deal will cover nearly 30 percent of the global economy, 10 percent of the world's population and 40 percent of global trade.
Speaking to reporters, the leaders on both sides made it no secret that the deal was in fact a response to Washington’s new posture on trade deals under President Donald Trump. They also took a jab at Britain and its decision to leave the EU in a quest for more economic freedom.
"Ahead of the G20 summit tomorrow, I believe Japan and the EU are demonstrating our strong political will to fly the flag for free trade against a shift toward protectionism," said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
He said the “win-win” deal relayed “a strong message to the world.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) walks with European Council President Donald Tusk at the European Council in Brussels, July 6, 2017.
'Global Europe'
Tusk took a more direct line, saying, "Although some are saying that the time of isolationism and disintegration is coming again, we are demonstrating that this is not the case."
He also took a swipe at Brexit supporters' slogan of "Global Britain," signing off a tweet about the deal with the words "Global Europe!"
Juncker echoed the same views, noting that the deal “shows that closing ourselves off from the world is not good for business, nor for the global economy, nor for workers.”
“As far as we are concerned, there is no protection in protectionism,” he added.
It took the two sides four years to negotiate the terms of the deal, mainly because Japan was more focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country deal that was left in limbo after Trump pulled the US out of it on his third day in the White House.
Trump has repeatedly accused the EU, Japan, China and South Korea of abusing trade agreements and exporting more to the US than they import from it.
The new Republican president has also called for renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a trade deal between the US, Canada and Mexico.

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