Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, poses with European Council President Donald Tusk, left, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo on Tuesday.
The entering into force of the agreement will bring into reality a massive free trade zone that accounts for about 30 percent of the world's gross domestic product, with a population of about 600 million.
The EPA "shows the unwavering political resolve of Japan and the EU to lead the world as a flag bearer of free trade amid growing protectionism," Abe said at a joint press conference Tuesday evening with Tusk and Juncker.
The prime minister also said the accord would constitute a "new engine" for his signature Abenomics economic policy.
The pact — which both Japan and the EU aim to have come into force by early next year — will abolish or reduce tariffs on industrial products and agricultural items between the two sides and sets rules on investment, which is expected to help enhance opportunities for further two-way trade and investment.
At the press conference, Tusk echoed Abe's view, stressing the significance of signing the landmark agreement when the rule-based trading system is under threat. The EPA has raised Japan-EU relations to a new height, he said.
Juncker also highlighted the importance of creating a system based on common values and rules for free and fair trade.
The signing was initially planned to take place in Brussels earlier this month, but Abe canceled a trip due to the rain disaster mainly in western Japan.
The three leaders also issued a joint statement on Tuesday, reaffirming a shared policy of fighting protectionism in line with a similar expression in the communique adopted at the summit meeting of the Group of Seven major countries in Charlevoix, Canada, in June.
The joint statement aims to demonstrate their stance of responding in unity to U.S. President Donald Trump, who has expressed his intention not to endorse the communique. Reiterating their support for the Charlevoix communique, the statement stresses the importance of the rule-based multilateral trade regime.
Based on his "America First" policy, Trump has shown an increasingly protectionist stance on the trade front by taking such measures as threatening to impose further tariffs on not just steel and aluminium but also automobiles.
The Japan-EU statement is intended to confirm their stance of warning against such hardline policies of the Trump administration and mutually cooperating to firmly maintain the free trade regime.
The EPA took over four years of negotiations in which both sides faced difficulties regarding procedures to settle investment disputes between companies and governments.