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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union and Japan are close to reaching an agreement in principle on a free trade deal, the European Commission said on Monday.

"An agreement in principle between the EU and Japan is within reach," a spokesman for the Commission told a regular press briefing.

"We are hopeful, we are confident, we are not yet certain," he added.

A trade accord with the world's third-largest economy would be the European Union's biggest trade scalp to date. The EU has forecast trade between the two could increase by a third, boosting the EU economy by 0.8 percent and Japan's by 0.3 percent over the long term.

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Elizabeth Miles)