BRUSSELS -- The European Union approved an economic partnership agreement with Japan on Wednesday, firming up a Feb. 1 launch for the massive free trade zone.
The European Parliament endorsed the agreement by majority vote at a regular meeting in Strasbourg, France, four days after Japan's legislature passed the pact. The deal will cover about 30% of the world's combined gross domestic product and around 40% of global trade.
"Our economic partnership with Japan -- the biggest trade zone ever negotiated -- is now very close to becoming a reality," Cecilia Malmstrom, the European Commissioner for Trade, said in a statement.
Under the agreement, Japan and the EU are set to abolish tariffs on 94% and 99%, respectively, of one another's goods, as well as advance liberalization in fields like investment and services. Japan's exports of automobiles and auto parts to Europe are expected to grow, while European cheeses, wines and name-brand garments and bags will more easily find their way to Japanese buyers.
Brussels and Tokyo aim in part to counterbalance the protectionist administration of U.S. President Donald Trump through the expansion of free trade zones. In Japan, however, the prospect of expanded European imports has raised concerns that farmers will lose market share. To counter this, the Japanese government intends to include support measures for the agricultural sector in its second supplementary budget for fiscal 2018.
Also on Wednesday, the European legislature approved a strategic partnership agreement with Japan to tighten ties in a range of fields, from governance and diplomacy to human rights.