bilaterals.org logo
bilaterals.org logo

EU-Japan

The European Union-Japan Free Trade Agreement negotiations were officially launched on 25 March 2013.

Japan originally had the stronger interest in discussing a trade agreement with the European Union (EU). Tokyo wanted the same advantages as Korea had since signing a trade deal with the EU. But after the Shinzo Abe government joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in summer 2013, the Pacific pact became a priority for Japan.

The tide turned again with Trump’s election as US President. One of his first executive orders was to withdraw the US from the TPP. The EU-Japan FTA then regained momentum, the two sides having claimed their intention to conclude the negotiations by 2017.

For a long time, little was known of the treaty, apart from the EU summaries of negotiations and a few leaks. The negotiating mandate is still not public, but a leaked version in German is now available.

In June 2017, major leaks revealed the deal failed to uphold environmental standards regarding, for instance, illegal timber and whaling, and included the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism.

The ISDS mechanism is a point of discord between the two parties. The EU champions its new investor court system whereas Japan favours the more traditional system. It could possibly take a hybrid form between the two. The mechanism gives investors a special right to challenge new laws or regulations if they deem that their expected profits or investment potential could be negatively affected.

Another part of the treaty would be a regulatory cooperation scheme that encourages alignment and mutual recognition of standards. This effectively provides big business with special access to policy making process. Corporate lobbies from both sides have encouraged the inclusion of such a system to eliminate so-called “barriers to trade”, another term for higher standards, often leading to lower protections for people and the environment.

Tariff reduction and elimination have been among the main stumbling blocks. The EU is asking Japan to slash tariffs on farm products such as cheese and pork above the levels agreed to in the TPP, while Japan seeks the removal of tariffs on automobiles and electronic equipment. The EU also wants Japan to extend copyright protection for some sound recordings to 70 years. Tokyo also wishes to include provisions ensuring the free flow of data and the prohibition of data localisation requirements. The EU agreed to study the issue, although the European Parliament approved stronger data protection regulations in April 2016.

On 6 July 2017, the EU and Japan reached a political agreement on the free trade deal but further discussion on areas such as investment protection (ISDS) and data flows are expected before the final conclusion.

last update: July 2017


Japan could dump wine tariff to sweeten EU trade deal
Offering immediate removal aims for concessions as ministers meet.
Japan minister urges EU to give way on dairy sector in talks
Japanese farm minister Yuji Yamamoto urged the European Union to give way on its demand that Japan open its market to dairy products from the bloc.
Leaked trade papers expose EU failure to uphold transparency and environment standards
A leak of documents related to a looming trade deal with Japan (known as JEFTA) has revealed the EU’s failure to live up to improve transparency and uphold environmental standards in trade policy promises.
Europe and Japan near trade deal as U.S. takes protectionist path
The partial draft of the deal was obtained by Greenpeace. The environmental groups worry that the deal falls short on a number of issues, including curbing the illegal timber trade and tackling overfishing.
EU’s agri-food market revels at prospect of Japanese trade deal
Farmers in the EU are watching eagerly as European and Japanese experts meet in Tokyo for their 19th round of trade talks.
Japan may set tariff-free quota for EU beef under EPA
Japan is considering setting a tariff-free import quota for beef from European Union member states, as requested by the EU in the two sides’ negotiations on an economic partnership agreement for free trade.
Japan eyes opening procurement bidding, lowering tariffs as EU trade pact bargaining chip
Tokyo is considering opening up bidding for local university and hospital projects to European companies.
Japan working to eliminate tariffs on wine from European Union
The government is making arrangements to eliminate import tariffs on wine produced in European Union countries, including France and Italy, in the Japan-EU economic partnership agreement negotiations.
Japan set to slash tariffs on EU pasta
The government is making arrangements to accept a substantial tariff cut on pasta made in the European Union, such as spaghetti, in Japan-EU economic partnership agreement negotiations.
Govt mulls opening railway market to EU
The government is considering opening part of Japan’s railway market to overseas companies based in Europe in the negotiations for an economic partnership agreement with the European Union.