The twelfth round of negotiations on the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) /Free Trade Agreement (FTA) (EPA/FTA：hereafter referred to as EPA) was held in Tokyo from the 14th to the 18th of September, 2015. Just as with every negotiation we have been through up to this point, officials from Japan and the EU have worked closely together, aiming to finalize an agreement that both Japan and the EU can benefit from.
Looking back, it was not very long ago when the first round of the EPA negotiations was held in Brussels. This was only back in April 2013, and within this short space of time, Japan and the EU have already sat across the table 12 times and we have been successful in narrowing down the gap between us.
Despite some differences which we have identified, the desire from each side to reach the conclusion has become progressively stronger through every round of negotiations. The 23rd Japan-EU Summit in May 2015 was, in my opinion, one of the key moments that lifted our negotiations to the next level. Japan and the EU shared a common vision for the EPA and attached importance to both speed and quality, and agreed to further accelerate the negotiations, aiming to reach an agreement in principle by the end of 2015.
It is clear, Japan and the EU are important global partners which share fundamental values such as democracy, rule of law, and basic human rights, but it is realized that there is still vast untapped potential between two entities. In the area of trade and investment, the EPA is seen as the most effective tool for realizing the potential of the Japan and the EU economies. It is expected that the Japan-EU EPA will promote trade and investment on both sides through the elimination of tariffs and improving trade and investment rules. It will contribute to a boost in economic growth, create employment and strengthen business competitiveness both in Japan and the EU.
At the most basic level, the Japan-EU EPA seeks to invigorate the economies of Japan and the Europe and provide growth and jobs. It will bring significant economic benefit to Japan and the EU, to industry and society, as well as to businesses and consumers. The EPA will not only further strengthen Japan-EU trade and investment, but it will also be a tool to deepen the relations between Japan and the EU and assist the two economies in addressing global issues.
On global scale, the Japan-EU EPA is expected to have wide ranging positive effects. The EU is a large market with a population of over 500 million and accounting for approximately 24% of the world GDP. The EU is one of Japan’s major trading and investment partners, contributing to approximately 10% of Japan’s total trade volumes. Japan and the EU’s joint contribution to global output is currently around 30%. An economic partnership agreement of this scale between the two of the world’s most advanced market economies will have positive contributions to stable growth in the world economy, global rule and standards setting in trade and investment. The EPA will also allow Japan and the EU to jointly play an even more positive role in international rule making for areas, such as safety regulations on products, business norms and protection of investment or intellectual property rights and other related economic activities, while also serving as a platform to create new business opportunities world-wide.
The EPA is not a simple free trade agreement, and we should not let it be just an ordinary agreement. There is nothing wrong about being ambitious, and in fact, we should be as ambitious as we can for the benefit of both Japan and the EU. The EPA must be an agreement which goes further, allowing us to build strong economies with advantages such as competitiveness, innovation and sustainability. The Japan-EU EPA is a testament to the principal of pursuing free, open, and interconnected economies. It should be deep and comprehensive in order to embed economic growth both in Japan and the EU.
We, Japan and the EU, are now tested to see if we can push the negotiations forward with a focus on speed and substance. We want the EPA to be substantial, to have real impact, and to be relevant decades after the agreement comes into force. Back in 2013, Japan and the EU might have sat far apart from each other when we first took our seats at the negotiation table. Now I don’t see any table between us, but together, we are rolling up our sleeves, putting in our utmost energy and efforts, and gearing up to make the final adjustments to the agreement.
I am convinced that through every round of negotiations we have completed, we are not failing this test and the time is right for both Japan and the EU to conclude this series of negotiations and step into a new phase of cooperation.
Before closing, I would like to give a clear answer to the question often asked about the relationship between the Japan-EU EPA and TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement). Japan’s basic position is as follows; Japan is negotiating the TPP to make an agreement at the highest possible level. Equally, with the EU, Japan will also pursue an EPA at the highest possible level.
About the writer
Born March 6, 1954, graduated from the Faculty of Tokyo University of Law, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1980. After occupied some key positions, he served as advisor to Chief Cabinet Secretary, Minister at the Embassy of Japan to the United States, Deputy Director-General of European Affairs Bureau, Ambassador of Japan to Ghana, 2008-2011, Ambassador in charge of Economic Diplomacy, 2011-2012, and Director General for Economic Affairs Bureau, 2012-2014.