The EU-Japan Partnership: the first of its kind

Wednesday 25 July 2018

At the 25th EU-Japan Summit on 17 July 2018, two agreements were signed between two of the largest economies in the world, thus concluding a five-years negotiation period. One is an economic partnership while the other, for the first time in the history of the European Union, is a strategic partnership.


"Today's signature of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement is a landmark moment for global trade, and I am also delighted that we have signed the first ever Strategic Partnership Agreement, which takes our cooperation to the next level,”[1] said Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, who was present in Tokyo together with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, for the signing of the agreement.


The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), the largest agreement ever negotiated by the European Union (EU), was signed in a particular climate of protectionism instituted by US President Donald Trump after he took the decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from EU, Canada and Mexico. Following the signature of the agreement, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström commented: “We are sending a strong signal to the world that two of its biggest economies still believe in open trade, opposing both unilateralism and protectionism.[2] Indeed, the EU and Japan have just created one of the largest open trade zones; together, they cover a territory of over 600 million people and nearly a third of global GDP.


Concessions have, however, been made from both sides in order to reach the conclusion of this agreement, particularly regarding agricultural exports from the EU: Japanese duties on many cheeses such as Gouda and Cheddar (which currently are at 29.8%) as well as on wine imports (currently at 15% on average) will be scrapped. Moreover, the EU will be able to increase its beef exports to Japan substantially, while on pork there will be duty-free trade in processed meat and almost duty-free trade for fresh meat. On top of this, the agreement ensures the recognition and protection in Japan of more than 200 high-quality European agricultural products, the so called Geographical Indications (GIs). For its part, the EU has agreed to open its market to the powerful Japanese auto industry. In order to enable European manufacturers to prepare for that, a transition period up to seven years will be implemented before tariffs duties, currently at 10%, are eliminated.[3]


Several organisations representing the agrifood sector in Brussels (COPA-COGECA, CELCAA and FoodDrinkEurope) consider this agreement as “an important step towards reinforcing the relations with one of our key trade partners, based on a shared commitment to progressive rules-based trade liberalisation and cooperation to achieve mutual benefits. The EU-Japan EPA comes with high expectations, both in terms of tariff reductions and removal of non-tariff barriers to trade, which are expected to create significant opportunities for European exports of agricultural products, food and drinks.”[4]


Regarding the Strategic Partnership Agreement, it should significantly strengthen the overall relationship between the EU and Japan by promoting political and sectoral cooperation and joint actions on issues of common interest, particularly in the areas of cybercrime, disaster management, energy security, climate change and aging populations[5]. Moreover, this landmark agreement should help the EU and Japan to jointly promote peace, stability and prosperity worldwide, as well as an open international system.


Despite concerns expressed by NGOs fighting climate change – disappointed by the fact that the Paris Agreement has been included in a non-binding chapter[6] – as well as by Japanese farmers who fear European competition[7], the agreement is now awaiting ratification by the European Parliament and the Japanese Diet, following which it could enter into force in 2019. It does not require the ratification of the national parliaments of EU Member States, since the topic of investment protection has been left out[8].


[2] Idem







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