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Japan, Germany agree to promote free trade, rules-based order

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, right, alongside his German counterpart Heiko Maas, speaks during a press conference after their talks in Tokyo on July 25, 2018. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The foreign ministers of Japan and Germany agreed Wednesday to promote free trade amid the rising protectionist tide while supporting a rules-based international order.

During talks in Tokyo, Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his German counterpart Heiko Maas stressed the importance of closer economic ties just days after the signing of a free trade agreement between Tokyo and the European Union.

"The free, open and rules-based international order faces a serious challenge," Kono said during a joint press appearance with Maas. "Closer cooperation between Japan and Germany, (nations) that share the same values such as democracy, and lead Asia and Europe...is taking on greater importance than ever."

The signing earlier this month of the free trade deal that covers about a third of the world's economy is symbolic of the concerted effort to counter the increasingly protectionist steps taken by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Maas, who chose Japan as the opening stop on his first Asian tour since taking the post in March, said that the free trade accord sends a "clear signal against protectionism."

Apart from economic issues, the two ministers said they will cooperate on issues related to climate change, working to ensure the Paris accord aimed at fighting global warming is implemented. Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 agreement just months into his presidency.

They also discussed North Korea's denuclearization and stressed the need for Pyongyang to dismantle all nuclear weapons and missile capabilities in a "complete, verifiable and irreversible" manner, a joint statement said.

In an apparent reference to China's increased assertiveness in the region, the ministers expressed serious concern about the situation in the East and South China seas and opposed any unilateral action.

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