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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

Japan eyes launching FTA talks with India, Vietnam next year
Japan wants to launch separate talks with India and Vietnam next year to develop bilateral free trade agreements, reflecting new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to expand such pacts through Asia, a news report said Thursday.
Japan, GCC states to meet by the year-end to push FTA talks
Energy-poor Japan and the GCC states are expected to meet again in Saudi Arabia by the end of this year for a second round on negotiations on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in a bid to secure stable fuel supplies.
Chile, Japan free trade agreement
Chile and Japan have negotiated a free trade agreement that among other facilities will sever bilateral exchange tariffs by 92 percent.
Japanese Cabinet OKs Chile trade pact
Japan’s Cabinet approved a bilateral free trade pact with Chile on Friday, an official said.
Japan, Persian Gulf nations hold first meeting to discuss free trade deal
Japan and six Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia on Thursday began the first round of talks on a free trade agreement, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
Japan, Chile reach basic agreement on free trade
Japan and Chile have agreed on a bilateral free trade pact, a Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.
Japan looks to play leading role in regional trade
Amid growing concern that Japan could be left behind by the proliferation of regional trade agreements, the government recently floated a proposal for what it describes as a comprehensive economic partnership for East Asia.
Japan eyes investment treaty with Cambodia, Laos
Japan is considering starting negotiations on signing a bilateral investment treaty with Cambodia and Laos to promote the entry of Japanese businesses in the developing economies’ markets.
Japan’s efforts on Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)
Snapshot of Japan’s current bilateral free trade agreement efforts, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Japan must act amid trade talk rubble
The World Cup of soccer wrapped up last month on an uncertain note. The unfortunate incident between French star Zinedine Zidane and Italian Marco Materazzi left an unsavory taste in the mouths of spectators worldwide. But there was probably a more significant though less closely watched international competition going on that month which may have resulted in all nations losing out.


  • CUJ - FTA page
    Anti-FTA campaign page of Consumers Union of Japan
  • MOFA on Japan FTAs
    Ministry of Foreign Affairs webpage on Japan’s FTAs and EPAs
  • Nippon Keidanren
    Japan Business Federation, established in 2002. Website contains several policy papers and position statements on Japan’s FTA strategy.