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Event Report: December 5: Rebooting EU-Japan Relations

5 December 2018

Opening a panel discussion jointly organized by the European Policy Centre and the EU-Asia Centre on Prospects for EU-Japan Relations on 5 December, Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, said that the two sides had under-achieved in recent years. Given the changed global circumstances, it was important that these two like-minded partners found ways to increase their cooperation.

Kazuo Kodama, Ambassador of Japan to the EU, said that states international relations had to take account of power, interests and values. As Japan and the EU were not major military powers, their cooperation was on shared values and interests (see slide used below). The joint statement at the last summit underlined the need to protect and promote the rules-based order. EPA and SPA were the tools to do so, providing the legal certainty and foundation to the relationship. He hoped the ratification would be concluded in the coming week. The SPA covered more than 40 areas of cooperation while the EPA was much more than a traditional FTA. The ambassador concluded: ‘We have never had it so good’ in our bilateral relations. A copy of the slides he used can be found at the end of this report. 

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Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific, EEAS, agreed that the relationship was values based first and interests second. The two sides needed to do more to ensure they really understand each other - different political cultures and ways of working. Both partners were highly industrialised economies, facing ageing populations. They were circular economies at the forefront of technological development and could be great cooperation partners, eg in AI, business, data protection, reform of the WTO. He hoped Japan would fulfil its climate change commitments at COP 24. The EU was Japan’s largest partner for trade and investment. There has been a long history of cooperation without legal agreements – friendly relations at G20, UN, plus Afghanistan, Myanmar, etc. But these new agreements were about certainty and business opportunities. The roadmap on implementation needed to be agreed. The Japan agreements were part of the EU’s larger regional engagement. 

Elmar Brok, MEP, said these new agreements were more important than ever after the US had retreated from the rules-based multilateral system. The America first approach was fundamentally wrong as two-three large countries could not be allowed to dominate the world. The EU-Japan agreements recognised demonstrated the wider picture of shared interest and cooperation. He was confident the EP would ratify the agreement next week.

Axel Berkofsky, Professor, University of Pavia and author of a new book on EU-Japan relations, welcomed the agreements but also offered some critical comments. He said the SPA was very ambitious and comprehensive. He wondered how the two partners would focus and set priorities. There was a risk of the agreements becoming ‘a recipe for inaction.’ He recognised that the current global climate was different but did not see much urgency in Japan to work with the EU. He also questioned Japan’s reluctance to sign the Framework Partnership Agreement which would create a legal basis for Japanese armed forces to participate in EU CSDP missions. They already do in some cases such as Niger, Mali, DRC, Balkans, but on an ad-hoc basis. There was also the question of Japan’s expanding defence ties with France, UK and Germany on weapons and technology). Was this a greater priority than the FPA?

Discussion

In the discussion it was noted that the joint committee would assess priorities once ratification was complete. The two sides would have an important impact on global standards if they could agree themselves on regulatory frameworks such as 5G. The FPA remained an objective. The agreements provided a legal framework for long-term cooperation, whether on data protection and AI to trade and security matters.

Find the PowerPoint slides used by the Ambassador of Japan here.