SOFIA — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov agreed Sunday to continue working together toward an early implementation of the Japan-EU free trade agreement as Sofia holds the EU’s rotating presidency through June.
After their meeting in the Bulgarian capital, Abe, on his six-nation European tour, also announced Japan’s plan to launch a cooperative initiative aimed at helping the Western Balkan countries, which were affected by the Yugoslav Wars, proceed with reforms and join the European Union.
Abe’s visit to Bulgaria as the first Japanese prime minister to do so comes after Tokyo and the 28-member economic bloc late last year finalized negotiations for a free trade deal to create one of the world’s biggest economic areas, aiming to implement it in early 2019.
Under the planned initiative on the Western Balkans, Japan will assign a new ambassador in charge of the issue, seeking to provide support to the six nations in the region — Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo — so they can become members of the European Union sooner, according to Japanese government officials. Serbia and Montenegro are already in negotiations to join the EU.
“Japan is keeping a close eye on the stability in the Western Balkan region,” Abe said in a joint press conference after their meeting, and Borissov welcomed the move.
Abe also said that Japan will set up a business forum to facilitate Japanese companies’ making inroads into Bulgaria so that those companies can discuss challenges they face with the Bulgarian government.
The two leaders also confirmed the need to maximize pressure on North Korea, which continues its nuclear and missile development, in order to persuade the country to change its policy.
Abe’s six-day tour will also take him to Serbia and Romania before returning to Japan on Wednesday. Before arriving in Bulgaria, he visited Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.