SEOUL (Reuters) – European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said on Thursday that a free trade deal with Japan would be strategically “very important” for the European bloc.

Katainen told reporters in Seoul that he would like to see a trade deal with Japan similar to the one the EU has with South Korea.

Jyrki Katainen, EU Commission vice-president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, poses at an event in Hong Kong, China July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

The commissioner said earlier this week he is confident that the EU and Japan can agree a free trade deal by the end of the year, although differences still remain.

The two sides have been wrangling over a deal since March 2013.

It would also be easier for European businesses if the won currency was directly convertible with the euro, Katainen added, although the issue has not been formally discussed between the EU and South Korea.

“It has been on our agenda for long and we don’t have any proposals on this issue but I’m interested to hear what officials are thinking about it,” he said.

(Reporting by Cynthia Kim; Writing by Christine Kim; Editing by Eric Meijer and Kim Coghill)

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