Ukraine crisis eclipses trade pact at EU-Japan summit

  
Barroso, Schinzo Abe and Herman Van Rompuy. Photo EBS
Barroso, Schinzo Abe and Herman Van Rompuy. Photo EBS

The EU and Japan called on Russia today (7 May) to avoid worsening the crisis in Ukraine and Brussels threatened further sanctions, seeking to calm growing violence that could put Ukraine's presidential elections at risk.

Seeking to forge a united front, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and EU leaders agreed to try to wrap up talks on an ambitious free trade deal next year that would encompass about a third of the global economy.

"We call on Russia to refrain from any steps to further destabilise Ukraine, instead to engage in a diplomatic resolution of the crisis," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told a news conference alongside Abe, following a summit in Brussels.

Western leaders have threatened to impose tougher sanctions on Russia if Moscow interferes with presidential elections in Ukraine set for 25 May, but the surge in violence in recent days has raised concerns about a slide towards war.

"Further steps in destabilising Ukraine will call for additional sanctions," Van Rompuy said.

Van Rompuy, who represents EU governments, said the 28-nation bloc is open to holding more talks with Ukraine, Russia and the United States to try to defuse the crisis, possibly in Geneva.

"What we are doing is keep(ing) open the track of negotiations and dialogue. We are even open to the idea of a second Geneva meeting. We are open to this idea and will work with colleagues on the possibility of it," he said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday called for a second international conference to put an end to the crisis in Ukraine

However, Moscow is sceptical. Asked about a German proposal to hold a second international meeting on Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week the agreements reached during the first round of talks in Geneva had still not been implemented.

At the end of a nine-day European tour, Abe also sought to win Europe's backing to continue free-trade talks that could add up to 1% of economic output a year to both Japan and the EU's economy and dramatically deepen economic ties.

Doubtful of Tokyo's willingness to bring down barriers to European exports, EU trade negotiators were told to pull the plug on talks, which began in April 2013, after a year if Japan did not show sufficient progress in areas from food to cars.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, also at the EU-Japan summit, said he saw "no objections" to more negotiations despite some resistance from European carmakers who worry Japan will not go far enough to open its markets.

Abe said there was agreement for a deal next year.

"We confirmed the importance of an early conclusion and 2015 is the target date for a basic agreement," Abe told the news conference with Van Rompuy and Barroso.

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