Karel De Gucht
flickr-Voka - Kamer van Koophandel Limburg
EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso visit Tokyo to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to formally launch long-awaited negotiations on potentially huge bilateral free trade deal.
The move, which has been opposed by European car-makers fearful of overwhelming Japanese car imports, was approved by the bloc's 27 trade ministers on November 29.
According to EU's Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht the deal could increase the union's gross domestic product, boost the export to Japan by one third and add 400,000 extra jobs across the bloc.
"Let's be clear. We need these jobs, and we need this growth in the current economic climate," said De Gucht.
A number of European industries, including agri-food, chemicals, ICT and pharmaceuticals, reportedly support the deal with Japan, which would tie the globe's largest market to the world's third biggest economy.
Britain expressed its support for negotiations, saying the deal is "a significant economic prize for Europe".
De Gucht has pledged to ensure the deal is followed by both sides, with Japan dismantling its non-tariff barriers as agreed upon.
The EU and Japanese leaders also plan to begin separate talks on a "political accord" featuring cooperation on security, environment, science and technology.