logo logo


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
photo: Lobby Control

European food industry backs ‘comprehensive free trade’ between EU and Japan
Representatives of European food industry organisations have come out in support of a strong free trade agreement between the EU and Japan, ahead of talks in Tokyo next Tuesday.
Japan, EU begin 3rd round of free trade talks
Japan and the European Union began their third round of free trade negotiations in Brussels on Monday, aiming to engage in full-fledged discussions on tariffs and other trade barriers.
Japan, EU to speed up trade talks
Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht agreed at a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday that Japan and the EU should accelerate their free trade talks.
Japan, EU begin second free trade talks
Japan and the European Union began, in Tokyo on Monday, the second round of negotiations on a bilateral free-trade pact aimed at stimulating economies on both sides.
Japan, EU agree to open FTA talks in April
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and two European Union leaders agreed in a teleconference Monday to start official negotiations in April on a free trade and service pact in April, Japanese officials said.
Japan, EU to launch free trade talks next week
Japan and the European Union will hold a summit next week at which they are expected to formally launch negotiations on a huge free trade deal, officials said on Friday.
A Japan–EU free trade deal?
Amid talk of a super, transatlantic free trade zone, the eurozone now has a new potential partner: Japan. But, in light of Tokyo’s slow progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), can the Abe government match competitor South Korea in inking a trade pact with Brussels?
Export firms eagerly await EPA talks / Deal could even playing field with S. Korean automakers in EU, offset surging yen
News that Japan and the European Union have agreed to start negotiations for an economic partnership agreement was a breath of fresh air for Japanese export-related companies, as it is highly likely an EPA deal will give a boost to their businesses.
Hopes high of a start to EU-Japan free trade talks
Hopes were running high Thursday that EU ministers will decide to start talks on a free trade deal with Japan, which together with the 27-member bloc accounts for more than a third of world output.
Noda to express willingness to participate in TPP talks
With U.S. President Barack Obama winning re-election, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda plans to express his intention to have Japan join in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which will strengthen ties with the United States.