BRUSSELS -- Japan and the European Union are closing in on their goal of putting their economic partnership agreement into force before the U.K. leaves the regional bloc next March.
The European Commission endorsed the final draft on Wednesday. Provisions on investment dispute resolution, a lingering point of contention, were separated out.
The commission aims to have the draft approved by EU member states at a summit meeting in late June. The Japanese cabinet is expected to grant approval around then, with the two sides scheduled to sign in mid-July.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, invited to a Bastille Day military parade in France on July 14, is expected to sign the document in Brussels around that time.
The landmark deal was reached in December 2017 after more than four years of talks and will cover 28% of the world's gross domestic product as well as 37% of global trade. It will highlight the importance of free trade at a time when the U.S. is erecting such protectionist walls as hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The Japan-EU agreement will be presented to legislatures on both sides as early as autumn.
Ratification will come by year-end if everything goes smoothly, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters in the French city of Strasbourg on Wednesday. This would put the pact on schedule to enter into force ahead of Brexit.
There is concern that if the pact kicks in after Brexit, it would have to be changed from the original form agreed on when Britain was still in the EU. In addition, the U.K. and Japan plan to use the EU trade pact as the basis for their own bilateral deal. The U.K. will only regain autonomy in negotiating trade deals when Brexit officially happens in March 2019. Having the Japan-EU trade deal in place ahead of Brexit would allow a swifter start to full-fledged talks between London and Tokyo.