The European Union said Thursday it will lift the remaining import restrictions it imposed on food products from a part of Japan after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, as cooperation between the world's largest trading bloc and the major Asian democracy rapidly expands in almost all realms.

The announcement was made at a Japan-EU summit in Brussels, during which the leaders agreed to reinforce supply chains for key industrial and raw materials and work even more closely on areas such as maritime security and cyberspace, in view of an increasingly assertive China and an imperialistic Russia.

As part of efforts to increase communication on security issues, they decided to establish a strategic dialogue at the foreign ministerial level.

"We welcome the EU increasing involvement in the Indo-Pacific," Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference following the meeting with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (L), European Council President Charles Michel (C) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attend a joint press conference after their talks in Brussels on July 13, 2023. (Kyodo)

Their joint statement cites various concerns stemming from Chinese actions, including its "opaque nuclear build-up." But the leaders emphasized the importance of "engaging candidly and expressing our concerns directly."

"It is important to cooperate with China, given its role in the international community and the size of its economy, on global challenges as well as areas of common interest," the statement said.

Japan's ties with Europe have further deepened following the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But it took some time for Tokyo to convince the 27-nation bloc to remove controls requiring testing for radionuclides and safety certification for some seafood and agricultural products from Fukushima and nine other prefectures.

Von der Leyen said at the press conference that the removal of the restrictions was based on scientific evidence.

The EU's decision came after the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded last week that Japan's plan to release treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant conforms to safety standards and poses no risk to human health or the environment.

A day after attending a NATO summit in Lithuania, Kishida visited the Belgian capital.

He hailed the bloc's decision, saying it will support the recovery of Fukushima and the surrounding areas, devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered a meltdown at the nuclear plant.

The lifting of the measures could take place in early August if all EU procedures go smoothly, according to Japanese officials.

With the EU dropping the curbs, the number of countries and regions maintaining such import controls will be 11, including China, South Korea and Hong Kong. Iceland and Norway, which largely employ EU standards for imports, may scrap the restrictions, the officials said.

Japan's food and agricultural exports to the EU rose 8.2 percent in 2022 from a year earlier to 68 billion yen ($490 million), more than tripling over the decade, driven by the popularity of Japanese cuisine worldwide.

As has been the case in recent years, the Japanese and EU leaders pledged to work closely on energy security, climate change, outer space and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence.

Kishida said he plans to host an online meeting on artificial intelligence with other leaders of the Group of Seven major democratic economies, possibly this fall.

Japan and the EU normally hold talks at the leader level once a year. The last summit took place in May 2022 in Tokyo.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (C), European Council President Charles Michel (R) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are pictured ahead of their talks in Brussels on July 13, 2023. (Kyodo)
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (2nd from R, back) attends an EU-Japan summit in Brussels on July 13, 2023. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

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