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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


Viet Nam, Japan start second FTA study session in Tokyo
Viet Nam and Japan began their second study session in Tokyo on April 26 to explore the possibility of signing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).
Diet steps closer to ratifying free-trade pact with Malaysia
The Diet cleared a free-trade agreement with Malaysia on Wednesday, bringing the pact one step closer to coming into force. To complete the ratification process, the Diet still needs to pass related bills concerning rules on product origin and tariff rates. In Malaysia, ratification does not require legislative measures, only administrative procedures.
US Ambassador unhappy about Japan’s idea of East Asia FTA
US Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer expressed concern on Wednesday about Japan’s idea to create a free trade zone in East Asia, claiming it could damage US regional interests.
METI’s Asia-Oceania FTA pitch surprises but is predictable
Trade minister Toshihiro Nikai’s announcement earlier this month that Japan plans to start talks with 15 other nations in 2008 to create an Asia-Oceania free-trade zone took many by surprise — not only experts but also those within government — sparking speculation about the ministry’s true intentions.
Japan to be less demanding on FTAs with Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos
Japan will not demand as much market opening in negotiations on free trade agreements with Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, compared with talks with the more developed members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, it was learned Monday.
Japan, Saudi Arabia agree to launch FTA talks with GCC
Japan and Saudi Arabia agreed Thursday to launch negotiations on concluding a free trade agreement between Japan and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which consists of six oil producers in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia, Japanese officials said.
Japan proposes huge free trade zone
Japan’s sponsorship of a vast free trade area including most of Asia, Australia and New Zealand is expected to be on the agenda when Associate Trade Minister Jim Sutton visits Tokyo later this month.
China rivalry fuels Japan’s FTA drive
Japan is revving up its drive toward free-trade agreements, or FTAs, with trading partners, largely fueled by an intensifying rivalry with China, a rapidly ascendant economic as well as military power.
Japan, Chile to accelerate FTA negotiations
Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet and Hidenao Nakagawa, policy chief of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, agreed Friday that the two countries should accelerate efforts toward signing a bilateral free trade agreement.
Japan gives priority to seal FTA with GCC
Japan decided Tuesday to revitalize its efforts to expand trade ties with other countries via free trade agreements (FTAs) and investment accords, with focusing on Kuwait and other member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

    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.