“The FTA that we are negotiating will stimulate growth on both sides”

Open markets, stronger economies

EU Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska

Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photo by Benjamin Parks

“If we can work together effectively on the basis of open markets, our economies will gain, our businesses will gain, and our consumers will gain,” insisted EU Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska in her speech at the EU-Japan Business Round Table in Tokyo to an audience that included Japanese Cabinet Ministers and businesspeople. “The free trade agreement that we are negotiating will stimulate growth on both sides.”

After having served as Minister of Regional Development and then as Deputy Prime Minister of Poland under Donald Tusk, Bieńkowska was appointed to the EU Commission in 2014. As Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship, and SMEs, she is responsible for strategising the removal of remaining obstacles to trade within the EU and complete the creation of a single EU market for goods and services. She is also working to strengthen the EU’s industrial base, to help EU countries make their defence markets more open and efficient, and to promote investment in new technologies.

While in Tokyo in April, Commissioner Bieńkowska met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to encourage his government to find ways to accelerate the signing of a free trade agreement with the EU. She also spoke with Motoo Hayashi, head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, to discuss ways the business environment in Japan could be improved, with a particular emphasis on dealing with issues in the steel sector.

The Commissioner’s speech, “EU and Japan: Same challenges, common agenda”, underlined the importance of cooperation between Japan and the EU in increasing employment, economic growth, and investment — and that having open borders is the answer to all this.

“Around the world, employment, growth and investment are too low,” Bieńkowska said. “We are doing everything we can to promote more jobs and more growth in an open world.”

She noted that there are those who believe markets and borders should be shut, but pointed to the fact that this has not worked historically. If Japan and the EU are to move forward and grow economically, these voices of opposition must be proven wrong; and in order to do this, both entities must work closely together.

In order to communicate the attractiveness of the EU to Japanese investors, Commissioner Bieńkowska gave an overview of the EU Single Market, highlighting three areas of particular interest to Japan.

“First, we will propose a services passport to reduce the burden on companies looking to offer services cross-border,” she explained. In order to accomplish this, her office is attempting to loosen regulatory requirements and simplify procedures.

“Second, we are consolidating and modernising our intellectual property framework,” she continued. Steps she is taking to achieve this include reviewing the framework for IPR enforcement and looking for ways to make it easier for SMEs to protect their intellectual investments.

“Third, we are putting much greater focus on implementation and delivery,” she continued, which means “working with national governments to make sure that laws are implemented and enforced correctly and consistently throughout the EU.”

The Commissioner believes that with these three things in place, both EU and Japanese businesses will benefit.

Bieńkowska’s main point on the necessity for expediting a free trade agreement was something she returned to again to conclude her speech.

“We need to make progress on market access for goods. We need to make progress on procurement. We need to make progress on automotive. This can be done,” she stated.

With a little more work, and continued cooperation, Bieńkowska is confident that an EU-Japan free trade agreement is set to become a reality.

“We just need to push on,” she said. “Every effort on both sides should be made to speed up the process and reach a comprehensive and balanced agreement. That is the best way to silence those who call for closed markets and closed borders.” •

“If we can work together effectively on the basis of open markets, our economies will gain, our businesses will gain, and our consumers will gain”