European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday at the 26th annual EU-Japan summit.
The leaders agreed to closer cooperation on security, the environment and trade and pledged to pursue long-awaited reforms to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
"Our strategic partnership has never been stronger," Tusk said on Thursday. "It is built on shared values of liberal democracy, human rights and our commitment to openness, cooperation as well as free and fair trade."
Pride for trade deal
The summit came less than three months after a massive trade deal took effect in which most of the €1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) that EU companies pay in export duties to Japan were removed.
Abe told reporters the trade deal "is a result of our leadership to maintain and develop the global free trade regime against the global trends of protectionism."
"The most important issue for the international community right now is to maintain the free-trade regime," Abe said. "Restrictive measures are not in the interests of any country."
On Friday, Abe is set to meet with US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose new tariffs on EU goods and is locked in an escalating trade war with China. The Japanese prime minister's Western tour comes two months before Japan is scheduled to host a summit of the Group of 20 industrialized nations.
Concern over Brexit
Abe also shared his concerns over the United Kingdom leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement in place. Many Japanese companies are based in the UK because they saw it as a gateway to Europe, and Abe said they need "legal stability" and transparency ahead.
"We welcome the fact that for the time being a no-deal Brexit is avoided," Abe said. "For Japan, the UK is a gateway to Europe, so a smooth Brexit is what we are hoping for."
Around 1,000 Japanese companies operate in the UK, supporting about 140,000 jobs.
dv/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)