Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo AbeReuters

The European Union and Japan are hoping to move swiftly towards a free trade agreement, after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held discussions with EU leaders in Brussels today.

The bilateral agreement is now being tipped to be in place next year, with Abe saying at a press conference: "We confirmed the importance of an early conclusion and 2015 is the target date for a basic agreement."

Talks began in May 2011 and reached their fifth round last year. Japan is hoping to increase its automotive and television exports to the EU, with the EU keen to push chees and wine. Both parties are eager to remove non-tariff barriers such as domestic rules on vehicle safety in Japan.

The EU estimates that a free trade agreement with Japan would boost the overall economy by 0.8% and lead to an increase in EU exports to Japan of more than 32%.

Japan is the EU's second largest Asian trade partner after China. Combined, the EU and Japan account for 30% of global GDP.

The discussions in Brussels came at a busy time for Japan's trade negotiation team. Talks with the US over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed 12 nation free trade agreement which, covering 40% of global GDP, would be one of the biggest in history, stalled last month.

Talks broke down after Japan refused to make concessions that would not protect its powerful farming industry. Abe, however, has said he expects the TPP to reach a conclusion in 2015.

He said: "We will negotiate intensively while aiming to achieve a broad (free trade) agreement in 2015."