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Event Report --- EU-Japan relations

19 July 2017

On 12 July the EU-Asia Centre held a panel discussion on the prospects for EU-Japan relations against the background of the agreements in principle which both sides reached on 6 July.

Ambassador Kazuo Kodama (Mission of Japan to the EU) quoted Shakespeare “there is a tide in the affairs of man” to emphasise the importance of the two agreements: the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement and the strategic partnership agreement. The two agreements were both ambitious and comprehensive and would raise relations to a new level. In addition, it demonstrated to the world that free trade with clear and transparent rules remained important to our societies and that globalisation was not dead. The agreement would have a positive impact on services, manufacturing and small agricultural producers like wine and cheesemakers at a time when rural areas were targeted by populist movements. He hoped that TPP and TTIP would be revived as well leading to a tripartite EU-Japan-US partnership. Japan shared Juncker’s hope that the deal could enter into force in early 2019.

Philippe Duponteil, Head of Unit C1 Far East DG Trade, said that the political landscape had changed dramatically in the past year. He agreed that the agreement showed that both sides appreciated the value of free and fair trade and that it also sent a very strong message against protectionism. The trade deal would remove almost all tariffs on EU exports. Food exports were likely to rise significantly but there were also good opportunities in services and procurement.  Japan would receive full access to the EU market which would boost car exports. The agreement showed that the EU and Japan shared the same philosophy on many issues e.g. a common approach on how to regulate markets, protect public services and labour rights, set high standards for food safety and the protection of the environment.  There was, however, still work to be done to finalise the texts – hopefully by the end of the year. Then there would be a legal review and translation of the agreement. Once ratified, the success of the deal would depend on EU and Japanese businesses seizing the opportunities to boost trade. “We only provide opportunities”.

Pedro Silva Pereira, MEP and rapporteur for the FTA, said that the EP had always been very supportive of these agreements and would continue to debate, evaluate and monitor the process carefully. He welcomed the fact that the 18 draft chapters of the agreement had been released to the public but said that additional efforts regarding transparency were necessary. The deal was the most important bilateral trade agreement ever for the EU. Yet important issues still needed to be addressed, like the investment court system. For the EP, it was quite clear that there could be no return to the private arbitration system. Other areas that required further work included regulatory cooperation and data flow. This being a new generation of trade agreements the EP would like to see a strong and progressive sustainable development chapter and the highest labour standards. In this vein the EP would welcome the ratification of all the core ILO conventions by Japan.

In the discussion there were questions raised about the Strategic Partnership Agreement and the impulse this might give to closer political cooperation; the options for dispute settlement mechanisms; the provision for SDGs; the importance of GIs; the role of China; non-tariff trade barriers within public procurement; and the potential impact of Brexit.

There was also a briefing on the outcome of the G20 by Martina Lodrant from the Secretariat General of the European Commission. She said it had been a unique summit because of the positions of the US and the media focus on the first bilateral between Trump and Putin. The EU was quite pleased at the final statement which talked about a level playing field and free and fair trade. The EU-Japan deal on the eve of the summit was an important event in the fight against protectionism.