April 15, 2011 / 6:30 AM / 9 years ago

Spain's Zapatero affirms EU goal of Japan trade deal

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero speaks during a news conference at the Spanish Embassy in Beijing April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

BOAO, China (Reuters) - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Friday affirmed the European Union’s goal of reaching a free trade deal with Japan.

The near-completion of a trade accord between the EU and South Korea has stoked Japanese fears of dwindling sales in Europe and prompted Tokyo last year to request a free trade accord of its own.

“We hope to sign the trade agreement with South Korea and Japan,” Zapatero, speaking through an interpreter, told the Boao business forum on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.

Spurred by Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, EU leaders last month agreed to invite Japan to negotiate closer trade ties with the 27-nation bloc, the world’s biggest market.

But the EU’s top trade official said on Wednesday that Japan must prove it is willing to open its markets to imports from the EU if it wants to launch talks at a summit in late May.

Japan must first prove it is willing to dismantle rules that slow European goods entering its market and block European firms from bidding for big public works contracts, said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who De Gucht negotiates trade policy on behalf of EU members.

Reporting by Raymond Colitt; Writing by Alan Wheatley; Editing by Ken Wills

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