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Event Report: 29 April: Outcomes of the EU-Japan Summit

30 April 2019

On 29 April 2019, the European Policy Centre and the EU-Asia Centre organised a briefing on the outcome of the 25 April EU-Japan Summit in Brussels.

Ambassador Kodama opened by stating, “we’ve never had it so good between the EU and Japan.” This was illustrated by the substantive joint statement agreed during the summit. After the provisional entry into force of the two landmark agreements (the SPA and the EPA) in February this year, joint efforts now had to be made to quickly implement those agreements, allowing both sides to reap the benefits. 

The Ambassador drew particular attention to a number of clauses in the summit statement. The strong language to describe connectivity and infrastructure investment was a result of a shared assessment of China’s BRI. Both the EU and Japan underlined the need for investments to be sustainable environmentally, socially and financially - and not infer political dependencies. The joint statement was a reflection of the willingness of both Japan and the EU to take up this leadership role that otherwise, no other global actor would fulfil. 

There was also strong convergence on foreign and security policy issues – including Iran and the DPRK- to climate change.

Ambassador Kodama also pointed out that the joint statement served to pave the way for the G20 summit in Osaka in June. Japan and the EU, which now constitute the world’s largest free trading area, are signalling to their partners that strengthening multilateral institutions and a rules-based  international system based on values and norms, is the only viable way forward. The joint commitment to strengthen and reform the WTO should likewise be seen in this context.

Reinhold Brender (Head of the East Asia division, EEAS) stated that the entry into force of the two aforementioned agreements now provide a firm legal basis on which to continue the longstanding cooperation between the EU and Japan. The EU considers Japan a paramount partner in ensuring that rules, and not might, dictate international relations. Indeed, today’s volatile geopolitical context, including the uncertainty created by Trump, had precipitated closer cooperation. The joint statement was a far-reaching document covering bilateral relations but also laying the groundwork for discussions at the upcoming G20 summit – which will notably touch on trade and investment.

Fraser Cameron (Director of the EU-Asia Centre) urged both parties to ensure a proper and swift implementation of the commitments entered into in the SPA and EPA and also demonstrate to the public an ability to work together. A trade a deal between Washington and Beijing could well damage the credibility of the WTO and the multilateral trading system at large – particularly to the detriment of smaller nations. To reform the WTO the EU and Japan should coordinate with likeminded partners around the world. 

Japan and the EU are among those foreign actors perceived most favourably  by the population of ASEAN states. Not only are both parties major providers of connectivity financing, but they support regional integration. ASEAN therefore, although not mentioned in the joint statement, would provide an excellent opportunity for Japan and the EU to jointly act on their connectivity objectives. Japan and the EU should also translate their common values into action by making public joint statements on current developments that violate human rights, individual freedoms and democratic values – such as concerning recent incidents in Myanmar or Brunei.  

After taking questions from audience, Ambassador Kodama briefly alluded to the Trump-Abe meeting that took place after the EU-Japan summit. Negotiations on a trade agreement between Japan and the US are on going and will cover sensitive issues including automobile tariffs. Even though these talks had not translated into an agreement or commitments of any kind, by continuing to engage with President Trump directly, Japan remains confident that an understanding will be reached soon. The personal relationship between Abe and Trump was excellent.

When asked about the success of the EU’s recent strategy on Euro-Asian connectivity, Mr. Brender added that the second Belt and Road Forum, held in Beijing last week, illustrated that Chinese leadership has incorporated European discourse on sustainable connectivity into its own language. He furthermore confirmed that the Kim-Putin meeting as well as Brexit were both discussed during the EU-Japan summit.