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EU, Japan Finalize Landmark Free Trade Deal

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels
Monday, December 11, 2017

The EU's new free trade agreement with Japan, finalized by negotiators from both sides on December 8, 2017, has been described as the European bloc's most comprehensive yet.

Announcing the deal, the Commission said: "The conclusion of these negotiations is an important milestone to put in place the biggest bilateral trade agreement ever negotiated by the European Union. The Economic Partnership Agreement will open huge market opportunities for both sides, strengthen cooperation between Europe and Japan in a range of areas, reaffirm their shared commitment to sustainable development, and include for the first time a specific commitment to the Paris climate agreement."

Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan said: "This agreement represents the most significant and far-reaching deal ever concluded by the EU in agri-food trade. It will provide huge growth opportunities for our agri-food exporters in a very large, mature, and sophisticated market. We were successful in developing a model free trade agreement that fits our export profile, while still delivering a mutually beneficial agreement with our partner. This shows the EU as a global leader and standard-setter in shaping international trade and its rules – a concrete example of the EU harnessing globalization to benefit our citizens. EU agri-food exports create high-quality jobs, most of them in rural areas."

The Economic Partnership Agreement will remove the vast majority of the EUR1bn (USD1.18bn) of trade duties paid annually by EU companies exporting to Japan, as well as a number of long-standing regulatory barriers.

With regards to agricultural exports from the EU, specifically, the agreement will:

  • Scrap duties on many cheeses such as Gouda and Cheddar (which currently are at 29.8 percent) as well as on wine exports (currently at 15 percent on average); and
  • Allow the EU 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.

The agreement also opens up services markets, in particular financial services, e-commerce, telecommunications, and transport.

This announcement means that the EU and Japan will now start the legal verification of the text, also known as "legal scrubbing." Once this exercise is completed, the English text of the agreement will be translated into the other 23 official languages of the EU, as well as into Japanese.

The Commission will then submit the agreement for the approval of the European Parliament and EU member states, aiming for its entry into force before the end of the current mandate of the European Commission in 2019.

At the same time, negotiations continue on investment protection standards and investment protection dispute resolution. The firm commitment on both sides is to reach convergence in the investment protection negotiations as soon as possible.

Welcoming the deal as a "win-win agreement," Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: "The EU and Japan share a common vision for an open and rules-based world economy that guarantees the highest standards. Today, we are sending a message to other countries about the importance of free and fair trade, and of shaping globalization. The potential of this deal is enormous and I'm glad that the EU and Japan remain fully on course to sign it next year. That way, EU firms, workers and consumers will be able to enjoy the benefits as soon as possible."