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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


Japan settles for ’low-risk, low-return’ FTA goals
Prudish about bilateral free-trade agreements just five years ago, Tokyo is now fielding partnership requests from 25 economies and regional blocs. But there is no denying an element of haphazardness in the way it is selecting some of the candidates.
Israeli deputy PM proposes FTA with Japan
Visiting Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed Wednesday that the two countries should study concluding a bilateral free trade agreement when he met with Japanese trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.
Japan, S Korea to advance FTA talks
Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and South Korean Finance and Economy Minister Han Duck Soo agreed Saturday to make progress by the end of the year on resuming stalled talks for a bilateral free trade agreement.
Japan rules out early FTA and PTA with Pakistan
Japanese Foreign Minister Nobuptaka Mechimura has ruled out any possibility of early Free Trade Agreement (FTA) or Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with Pakistan.
Indonesia, Japan likely to negotiate FTA soon
Indonesia and Japan are likely to start talks on a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) later this month during Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s attendance at the Asia-Africa Summit in Jakarta.
Malaysia FTA hits roadblock over cars
Negotiations over a free trade agreement between Japan and Malaysia have hit a speed bump over cars, a focal point of the talks, due to Kuala Lumpur’s determination to continue protecting its local industry.
Mexican free trade under way
Many people in Japan doubtlessly woke up Friday morning ignorant of the fact that April 1 was Day One of free trade with Mexico.
Japan, Thailand strike pact on FTA talks’ farm aspects
Japan and Thailand have struck a basic deal on the contentious farm products segment of trade talks, Japanese government sources said Wednesday.
Japan seeks bilateral trade deals with southeast Asia
Japan plans to expand trade in Southeast Asia through a network of bilateral free trade pacts - from Thailand and Malaysia to Indonesia and the Philippines, a senior Japanese trade official said.
Japan to sign FTA with Switzerland
An FTA with Switzerland, to be reached by April, would allow Japan to strengthen its position to fight back pressure to open up its agricultural market.

    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.