bilaterals.org logo
bilaterals.org logo

Japan

Japan has been notoriously late in joining the "bilaterals bandwagon". Until the latter part of the 1990s, the government hedged most of its bets on multilateral negotiations as a means of opening up foreign markets to Japanese corporate interests. However, Japan is increasingly suffering the loss of market shares that FTAs between other countries produce. Because of NAFTA, for example, Japan felt an acute need for its own treaty with Mexico so that its products benefit from the same tariff levels on the Mexican market as those coming in from the United States.

Until recently, Japan focused its bilateral negotiating agenda on a few countries around the Pacific. Major deals have been signed with Singapore (2002), Malaysia (2004), Mexico (2004), Philippines (2006), Indonesia (2007), Chile (2007), Thailand (2007), ASEAN as a whole (2008) and Vietnam (2008).

In mid-2006, Tokyo announced the start of FTA talks with Brunei and these were wrapped up in 2007. Japan’s deals with both Brunei and Indonesia are unique because they guarantee Tokyo access to oil and gas supplies.

In mid-2006, Japan went so far as proposing an overarching East Asian FTA encompassing Japan, ASEAN, India, China, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. ASEAN, among others, gave this idea a cool response.

In 2007, negotiations with India and Australia began, while somewhere down the pipeline, Colombia, China, Korea, Cambodia and Laos are also on the agenda.

Other countries are further targets creeping into Japan’s bilateral trade agenda:
- In early 2005, Japan started exploring possible talks with Switzerland, and the actual negotiations started in 2007.
-  In 2006, spurred by concerns about access to energy resources, Japan moved towards kicking off talks for an FTA with Kuwait and other oil and gas-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
- There are also growing concerns about trade disadvantages for Japanese firms on a wider international scale, leading to FTA overtures towards Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand and even some wishful talk of a US-Japan deal.
-  In late 2011, Japan showed interest in negotiating an FTA with Burma.
-  In March 2012, there were indications of upcoming FTA talks with Mongolia and Canada.

The deals put forward by Japan are called "Economic Partnership Agreements" (EPAs), as the government holds that the term "free trade agreement" doesn’t capture the broader integration of economic and social policies that these treaties aim to achieve between the partner countries. But these EPAs are similar in coverage to a typical FTA from the US, New Zealand or the EU, if less ambitious on the content.

Domestic opposition to FTAs has crystallized around the announcement that the Japanese government intends to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP.) 2011 and 2012 have seen major demonstrations against the agreement were mounted by Japanese farmers, targeting the undermining of food security which agricultural liberalization under the proposed deal could bring about, especially in relation to rice. Zenroren (National Confederation of Trade Unions) also opposes the deal, with concerns about job losses, the opening up of the economy to US capital, and the erosion of living standards and working conditions. Many Japanese opponents view the TPP as being essentially a bilateral FTA with the US.

last update: May 2012


Second report of Session 2019–21, UK - Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement
Second Report of Session 2019–21, together with formal minutes relating to the report of UK - Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreeement
Japan’s cabinet approves new economic pact with UK
The Japanese government has finalized a bill on Wednesday for a new economic partnership agreement with the United Kingdom. The government aims to seek swift Diet approval so that the deal will take effect on January 1, 2021.
Searching for value in the Japan–UK trade agreement
The UK has taken the first step in its post-Brexit FTA agenda by signing the Japan–UK CEPA on 23 October. Although the UK government called the deal a ‘historic free trade agreement’, its main value appears to be political — especially for UK domestic politics.
UK-Japan trade deal will provide political cover - but only a limited trade boost
UK-Japan trade deal contains very limited improvements relative to the trade deal the UK enjoyed with Japan through its EU membership - the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which entered into force in February 2019.
Japan, UK to sign first post-Brexit bilateral trade deal
Praising the agreement as a "historic moment," both countries are eager to strengthen their economic ties. Tokyo is also hoping the UK will play a stronger role in Indo-Pacific security to contain Chinese expansion.
Angola and Japan strengthen parliamentary cooperation
The two countries are negotiating the signing of a reciprocal investment protection agreement.
Trade deals handing Japanese seeds to multinational corporations
Japan need a policy that is based on a major shift from industrial agriculture to agroecology by small farmers. For this to be possible Japan must pull out of TPP and other similar FTAs.
Japan wants to reach broad agreement on trade with UK this week: government official
Japan wants to reach broad consensus with the United Kingdom on trade this week, a Japanese government official said, signalling Tokyo’s desire to make progress on the bilateral trade deal before a change in government.
Beijing, Tokyo should upgrade investment pact
In the context of warming ties between China and Japan, the two countries should launch negotiations on an upgraded bilateral investment agreement as soon as possible, as well as start negotiations for a China-Japan free trade agreement.
Japanese minister to visit Britain for ’difficult’ talks on trade deal
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi will visit Britain this week for what he said will be difficult talks with British Trade Minister Liz Truss, with the hope of finding middle ground and concluding a post-Brexit trade deal.

    Links


  • CUJ - FTA page
    Anti-FTA campaign page of Consumers Union of Japan
  • MOFA on Japan FTAs
    Ministry of Foreign Affairs webpage on Japan’s FTAs and EPAs
  • Nippon Keidanren
    Japan Business Federation, established in 2002. Website contains several policy papers and position statements on Japan’s FTA strategy.