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


A less than satisfactory trade agreement
The Japanese government will also be worried about a sluggish economy and there will be no appetite for liberalization measures that impose pain on Japanese businesses.
US and Japan to discuss next trade talks in early 2020, USTR says
The United States and Japan will begin consultations early 2020 in order to enter into negotiations on a broader trade agreement.
Japan parliament approves US free trade pact
The Japan-US trade agreement designed to reduce or eliminate a broad range of import tariffs was approved by majority vote of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and others in the upper house of the Diet.
Turkey, Japan aim to sign economic partnership deal by year-end
Turkey and Japan aim to finalize negotiations on an economic partnership deal by the end of 2019.
Japan braces for US pressure on services in next trade talks
The Office of the US Trade Representative released late last year a summary of negotiating objectives spanning 22 areas, including telecommunications and financial services.
Japan’s farms face up to $1bn hit from US trade deal
Japanese agricultural production will decline 60 billion to 110 billion yen ($552 million to $1.01 billion) under the bilateral trade deal with the US, the government said.
Japan prepares bill to ratify US trade deal
US President Donald Trump has said the deal does not require congressional approval.
US, Japan sign trade deals
President Trump oversaw the signing of two limited trade deals with Japan, slashing tariffs on $7.2 billion worth of America’s agricultural exports, but avoiding thorny issues such as auto tariffs.
Where the US-Japan trade deal falls short of Trans-Pacific pact abandoned by Trump
The deal offers worse access to Japan for some US agricultural goods than the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Ag leaders react to US - Japan trade deal
Ag leaders believe a new free trade agreement with Japan should put billions of dollars back in the pockets of American farmers.

    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.