logo logo


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

Japan to propose 16-nation Asian FTA, including India
Japan’s trade minister will propose forming a 16-nation East Asian free trade zone, including India, that covers half the world’s population and a quarter of its gross domestic product at an upcoming regional forum, an official said.
Japan to focus on FTAs after collapse of WTO Talks
Japan is expected to focus its trade policy more on bilateral free trade agreements after the World Trade Organization’s Doha round of global trade liberalization talks has effectively collapsed.
ANALYSIS: WTO collapse forces Japan down rocky FTA road
Now that the global trade talks under the World Trade Organization have collapsed, Japan will be forced to walk down what looks like a rocky road to seek bilateral free trade agreements, marking a departure from its trade policy based on both multilateral and bilateral approaches.
Japan, Malaysia FTA takes effect
A free trade agreement between Japan and Malaysia took effect Thursday, enabling the two countries to scrap tariffs on essentially all industrial goods and most agricultural, forestry and fishery products within 10 years.
FTA negotiations with Chile resume
Japan and Chile began five days of official talks Monday in Tokyo aimed at concluding a bilateral free-trade agreement by the end of the year.
Japan can use Dominican Republic to enter the U.S. market
Dominican president Leonel Fernandez today presented his country as a "springboard" for Japanese products to enter the United States duty free.
Japan, Brunei kick off FTA talks
Japan and Brunei kicked off their first round of official negotiations Monday in Tokyo aimed at sealing a bilateral free-trade agreement, with Tokyo aiming during the five-day run to win tariff cuts on its industrial goods exports and a stable supply of natural resources from the Southeast Asian country.
Japan, Brunei to hold first FTA talks next week
Japan and Brunei will hold the first round of talks aimed at concluding a free trade agreement in Tokyo for five days from Monday, Japan’’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Japan-Malaysia FTA to take effect on July 13
A free trade agreement between Japan and Malaysia will take effect on July 13 to scrap tariffs on essentially all industrial goods and most agricultural, forestry and fishery products within 10 years, the Japanese government said Tuesday.
Viet Nam, Japan start second FTA study session in Tokyo
Viet Nam and Japan began their second study session in Tokyo on April 26 to explore the possibility of signing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).


  • 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.