BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union and Japan have pledged to get to a free trade at the earliest possible opportunity, with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying it should be used as a beacon against isolationism.

As they met for bilateral talks, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was targeting a deal "at the earliest possible date," while Juncker suggested it should be clinched within the next nine months. He said "it promises to be a historic year between Japan and the EU."

Juncker said the deal was necessary to "continue to look out toward the world rather than return to isolationism."

The deal has been five years in the making and would intensify trade between partners who together account for over a third of the world's economic output.