Japan has been notoriously late in joining the "bilaterals bandwagon". Until the latter part of the 1990s, the government hedged most of its bets on multilateral negotiations as a means of opening up foreign markets to Japanese corporate interests. However, Japan is increasingly suffering the loss of market shares that FTAs between other countries produce. Because of NAFTA, for example, Japan felt an acute need for its own treaty with Mexico so that its products benefit from the same tariff levels on the Mexican market as those coming in from the United States.
Until recently, Japan focused its bilateral negotiating agenda on a few countries around the Pacific. Major deals have been signed with Singapore (2002), Malaysia (2004), Mexico (2004), Philippines (2006), Indonesia (2007), Chile (2007), Thailand (2007), ASEAN as a whole (2008) and Vietnam (2008).
In mid-2006, Tokyo announced the start of FTA talks with Brunei and these were wrapped up in 2007. Japan’s deals with both Brunei and Indonesia are unique because they guarantee Tokyo access to oil and gas supplies.
In mid-2006, Japan went so far as proposing an overarching East Asian FTA encompassing Japan, ASEAN, India, China, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. ASEAN, among others, gave this idea a cool response.
In 2007, negotiations with India and Australia began, while somewhere down the pipeline, Colombia, China, Korea, Cambodia and Laos are also on the agenda.
Other countries are further targets creeping into Japan’s bilateral trade agenda:
In early 2005, Japan started exploring possible talks with Switzerland, and the actual negotiations started in 2007.
In 2006, spurred by concerns about access to energy resources, Japan moved towards kicking off talks for an FTA with Kuwait and other oil and gas-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
There are also growing concerns about trade disadvantages for Japanese firms on a wider international scale, leading to FTA overtures towards Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand and even some wishful talk of a US-Japan deal.
In late 2011, Japan showed interest in negotiating an FTA with Burma.
In March 2012, there were indications of upcoming FTA talks with Mongolia and Canada.
The deals put forward by Japan are called "Economic Partnership Agreements" (EPAs), as the government holds that the term "free trade agreement" doesn’t capture the broader integration of economic and social policies that these treaties aim to achieve between the partner countries. But these EPAs are similar in coverage to a typical FTA from the US, New Zealand or the EU, if less ambitious on the content.
Domestic opposition to FTAs has crystallized around the announcement that the Japanese government intends to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP.) 2011 and 2012 have seen major demonstrations against the agreement were mounted by Japanese farmers, targeting the undermining of food security which agricultural liberalization under the proposed deal could bring about, especially in relation to rice. Zenroren (National Confederation of Trade Unions) also opposes the deal, with concerns about job losses, the opening up of the economy to US capital, and the erosion of living standards and working conditions. Many Japanese opponents view the TPP as being essentially a bilateral FTA with the US.
last update: May 2012
4-Aug-2015 The Japan News TPP failure could spell trouble for other trade talksThe failure to reach a broad agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership could harm Japan’s efforts to create a “mega trade zone” through other major accords
15-May-2015 Diet OKs trade agreement with MongoliaThe Diet approved an economic partnership agreement with Mongolia on Friday.
10-Feb-2015 AP Japan, Mongolia ink trade pact that may increase car exportsJapan and Mongolia signed a free trade agreement Tuesday that is expected to open the landlocked frontier market to more Japanese auto exports and strengthen Tokyo’s leverage with a key partner in its dealings with North Korea.
6-Feb-2015 METI/MOFA Signing of the Japan-Ukraine Investment AgreementTokyo announces the signing of a bilateral investment treaty with Kiev, which it highlights as opening Ukraine farmland and mineral resources to Japanese investors.
25-Nov-2014 Kyodo Japan, Turkey to begin FTA talks next weekJapan and Turkey will hold the first round of negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement next week in Tokyo, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
Iceland Foreign Minister Gunnar Sveinsson said his country is eager to reach a free trade agreement with Japan, calling on Tokyo to take “new steps” in this direction.
22-Oct-2014 Azer News Azerbaijan, Japan to ink agreement on mutual protection of investmentsAzerbaijan and Japan plan to sign a bilateral investment treaty. Japan is involved in the country’s energy and infrastructure sectors.
4-Aug-2014 Kyodo Abe talks up trade ties with Latin American alliancePrime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed eagerness Saturday to bolster economic and trade ties with the four Latin American nations that make up the Pacific Alliance, after accelerating the conclusion of a free trade agreement with Colombia.
30-Jul-2014 Colombia Reports Colombia, Japan agree to accelerate FTA processColombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and the prime minister of Japan agreed to expedite the process of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
23-Jul-2014 The Diplomat The Japan-Mongolia FTA is about cars, minerals and abducteesMining is expected to become a much larger portion of their overall trade, with an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause instituted to protect companies and allow them to seek compensation if government policy negatively impacts their investments.