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Japan

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


US agrees to expand low-tariff quota for Japanese beef imports: sources
The United States has agreed to increase its low-tariff quota for Japanese beef in bilateral trade negotiations, sources close to the matter have said.
US hints at rice concession in Japan trade talks
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue suggested the US may make concessions in seeking greater access to Japan’s rice market, during ongoing bilateral trade talks.
US and Japan rush to finish trade deal by Trump’s tight deadline
Negotiators are now finalizing many of the core elements, including how much Japan is willing to open its agriculture market to US imports, cuts to industrial tariffs, and the treatment of digital trade.
United States and Japan reach "agreement in principle," but questions and obstacles remain
This report provides an overview of the announced agreement and the prospects and timing for its completion and entry into force.
The other trade war—Japan vs South Korea
Japan imposed export restrictions on three key chemical materials upon which South Korea is highly dependent for the production of semiconductors. With other actions, that were viewed by South Korea as a “declaration of economic war”.
Trump-Abe trade deal helps US farmers, staves off auto tariffs
The US and Japan agreed in principle on a trade deal that would slash Tokyo’s tariffs on American beef, pork and other agricultural products, while delaying for now the threat of additional levies on Japanese auto exports to the US.
US and Japan near free trade deal as high-level talks get underway in DC
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will meet with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegu in Washington for two days of discussions on a proposed bilateral free trade deal.
Japan leaves billions on table as paperwork clogs free trade deals
Only half of eligible companies enjoying fruits of 17 trade agreements.
The Japan-US ‘mini-deal’ has big implications
As the US and Japan intensify trade negotiations, the push for a quick “mini-deal” on agriculture and autos will have far-reaching impact.
US, Japan look to clinch trade deal in September
With China talks stalling, Trump may be more inclined to give Japan concessions to seal in a trade ‘win.’

    Links


  • 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.