“Today, we cement the Japanese–European friendship forever”

It’s official

The EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement is signed


Text by Andrew Howitt and Julia Carvell

History was made in Tokyo on 17 July. At the 25th EU–Japan Summit, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, for the long-awaited signing of the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). It is set to become the world’s largest bilateral agreement, covering 600 million people and nearly a third of global trade.

Formal negotiations began in 2013 and were finally concluded last December. The initial aims of the agreement were to solidify the economic relationship between the EU and Japan by removing tariffs, creating more transnational business opportunities and promoting job creation. However, in the political context of 2018, the EPA also represents the ongoing commitment of both the EU and Japan to free trade, fair trade and friendship.

“Today, we sign the epoch-making Japan–EU Economic Partnership Agreement and the Strategic Partnership Agreement,” Abe said at a post-summit press conference, attended by Eurobiz Japan. “The signing of the EPA clearly demonstrates to the world the unwavering political will of Japan and the EU as flagbearers of free trade to lead the world in the midst of spreading protectionism.”

Tusk focused on the close relationship between the EU and Japan and their shared values, on which the two agreements are founded.

“Today, we cement the Japanese–European friendship forever,” he said. “Geographically, we are far apart, but politically and economically, we could hardly be any closer. We both firmly believe in openness, cooperation, rules-based international order and free trade. We both share values of liberal democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

With the ratification of the EPA by the European Parliament and the Japanese Diet, and its expected entry into force in early 2019, 90% of tariffs on goods — from cars to cheese to chemicals — will be removed between Japan and the EU, saving EU firms nearly €1 billion in annual duties. It is estimated that the agreement will boost Japan’s GDP by ¥5 trillion and create 290,000 jobs in the nation.

“[The EPA] will create a free and fair economic framework with high standards befitting the 21st century,” Abe continued, adding that it would bring about “huge opportunities, especially to those in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors, as well as the micro-, small and medium enterprises of Japan.”

Under the EPA, many Japanese agricultural products, including Kobe beef and Yubari melon, will be protected in the EU through geographical indication (GI), identifying that they originated in a particular region and assuring consumers of their quality. And some 200 European GIs will be protected in Japan.

“This agreement puts fairness and values at its core; it will set the template for others,” said Juncker. “It upholds the highest standards in areas such as labour, safety, environmental and consumer protection.”

The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) was negotiated in tandem with the EPA and formally takes the relationship beyond solely business and trade.

“[The] Japan–EU SPA is a confirmation that Japan and the EU share universal values like freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law,” said Abe. “It is the first-ever document that is legally binding that comprehensively sets forth cooperation in wide-ranging areas … including security, maritime affairs, development and education.”

The SPA also includes sections calling for greater bilateral cooperation in areas such as the environment and climate change; disaster management and humanitarian action; tourism and people-to-people exchange; and the promotion of peace and security regionally and internationally.

Also, a landmark decision was reached during the summit on the mutual recognition of adequacy for the cross-border transfer of personal data between the EU and Japan.

“I am delighted that we have come to an agreement on adequacy in recognising each other’s data protection systems,” Juncker announced. “This will create the world’s largest safe-flow-of-data area and ensure the highest levels of data protection for the people of Japan and Europe alike.”

The European Business Council in Japan (EBC), in 2006, was the first European business organisation to call for an EPA. Throughout the negotiation process, the EBC regularly provided the EU Commission with “detailed technical information of both requests and explanations of the issues faced by European industry in Japan”, according to an EBC press release.

“The [signing] represents an important milestone in the economic relationship between the EU and Japan,” stated EBC Chairman Danny Risberg. “Companies of the respective regions have invested heavily and look forward to [strengthening] their presence in their respective markets.”

However, the work of the EBC does not end with the signing, or even the ratification of the EPA. The EBC will continue to carefully monitor the proper implementation of the agreement to ensure its lasting success.

The summit took place shortly after torrential rainfall and flooding in western Japan killed more than 220 people across 15 prefectures and damaged nearly 40,000 residences. Both EU leaders took a moment to offer their condolences for the lives lost, as well as their continued support for Japan and its people.

“Please be assured that you can count on us and on the European solidarity,” said Tusk. “We will always be there for you because this is what friends do.” 

Photo: © European Union

“[The] Japan–EU SPA is a confirmation that Japan and the EU share universal values like freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law”