Brussels - The European Union on Friday declared the first round of free trade negotiations with Japan a success, although the bloc's chief negotiator warned of “difficult issues” ahead.

“It's been a good start,” said EU negotiator Mauro Petriccione of the European Commission.

“This is a big negotiation with some difficult issues, but I am confident we can make good progress in the months to come,” he added.

Petriccione's comments came after he held his first round of negotiations with Japanese EU ambassador Yun Yokota. The next session is due in Tokyo on June 24-28, with a third round anticipated later in the year.

The EU representative said he had a good relationship with his Japanese counterpart, but said they were engaged in a “complicated negotiation.”

“It will require some time and some effort while we move from joint objectives to joint solutions,” Petriccione said.

The most sensitive areas included non-tariff barriers to trade, Japanese restrictions on procurement, as well as the car industry, an EU source said.

European carmakers fear that their sector will suffer job losses because of increasing Japanese exports. Japan is home to automobile giants such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

Those who support the free trade agreement point to its potential for boosting growth in the crisis-battered EU. The commission has estimated that a deal could increase the bloc's gross domestic product by 0.8 per cent and create more than 400,000 jobs.

Japan is the EU's seventh-largest trading partner, while the bloc is Japan's third-largest. - Sapa-dpa