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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, EU in talks seeking free-trade deal by year-end
Japan and the European Union are holding last-ditch talks to try reach a broad free trade agreement by the end of the year (2016), Japanese government officials said.
Data fight emerges as last big hurdle to EU-Japan trade deal
A dispute over data has emerged as an unexpected obstacle to an EU-Japan free-trade deal only weeks before diplomats expected to seal a political agreement.
EU closes in on TTIP-style deal with Japan
Officials in Brussels have announced that they are close to securing a free trade agreement with Japan.
EU wants swifter progress on economic partnership with Japan
Trade minister Hiroshige Seko has received a letter from a senior European Commission official urging prompt conclusion of an economic partnership agreement.
Japan, EU to discuss troublesome farm products separately in talks on economic partnership agreement
Japan and the European Union plan to discuss key farming products separately from other goods in negotiations on a proposed economic partnership agreement for free trade
Japan, EU reaffirm goal to reach trade deal by year-end
Japan and the EU will hold a plenary session in Brussels to pin down key topics for discussion. The two sides have held 16 rounds of negotiations so far, and have unofficially held field-specific talks as well.
Brexit fuels Japanese worries over planned trade deal
The prospect of Brexit is giving Japan serious cause for concern as its government fears dwindling interest in a planned free trade agreement with the EU.
EU, Japan to aim for 2016 "agreement in principle" on FTA
Leaders from the EU and Japan confirmed that they aim to reach an “agreement in principle” in 2016 for a bilateral trade pact, following over three years of negotiations.
European Union and Japan give green light for trade deal
In talks at the G7 summit in Japan, leaders agreed to instruct negotiators to work to an accelerated timetable which could see the EU-Japan deal concluded as early as this autumn and come into effect next year.
Results of last EU-Japan negotiating round
The Commission released its report on the latest EU-Japan negotiations, which happened between April 11-20 in Tokyo.