BRUSSELS - Senior European Union and Japanese officials reached a free-trade agreement on Wednesday, paving the way for leaders to conclude the political accord on Thursday, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said.
"We've reached political agreement at ministerial level on an EU-Japan trade deal. We now recommend to leaders to confirm this at summit," she tweeted after meeting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Brussels. "We ironed out the few remaining differences."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due in Brussels on Thursday to sign a political agreement with the heads of the main European Union political institutions.
Senior EU officials said some issues, as well as legal technicalities, had to be worked out in the coming months before a full treaty would be ready for signing.
"We agreed on almost everything that is important for either side," one senior EU official said after the talks.
He said that EU food and drinks exporters would in time get almost completely tariff-free access to nearly all Japanese markets - a key European demand - and European carmakers would "not be disappointed" by a transition to ending tariffs on Japanese vehicle imports. Carmakers' lobbies had sought at least a seven-year period before tariffs disappear.
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald, editing by Larry King)