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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 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.
Tokyo tries dual trade diplomacy
The government wants to have it both ways with its trade diplomacy this year, focusing on bilateral free trade agreements in the first half and multilateral negotiations at the World Trade Organization in the second.
Tokyo in push on trade deals
Japan will push to conclude a basic bilateral trade agreement with Thailand and Malaysia within the next few months, according to a senior trade official, who denied suggestions from a member of his own ministry that talks with those two countries had stalled.
Basic Policy towards further promotion of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)
As approved by the Council of Ministers on the Promotion of Economic Partnership on 21 December 2004
Japan to kick off FTA talks with East and Southeast Asian nations
Japan will start negotiations on free trade agreements (FTAs) at the governmental level with Malaysia, Thailand and the Republic of Korea this month.
Japan should entertain Swiss offer when planning its FTA strategy
Japan has been lagging behind other industrialized nations in pursuing bilateral or regional agreements. It now needs a strategy as it tries to catch up with the global trend.
Japan adopts FTA policy focusing on partners in Asia
The government on Tuesday approved a basic plan to promote free-trade agreements, prioritizing accords with Asian trading partners to help build an East Asian community. It also adopted a set of 12 criteria to choose potential FTA partners, envisioning future negotiations with trading partners outside East Asia.
Japan panel urges steps to speed free trade accords
Japan needs to work on loosening restrictions in domestic agriculture and labour and to work effectively to more swiftly forge free trade agreements (FTAs), the government’s top advisory panel said on Monday.
Japan proposes FTA talks with South Korea in January
Japan’s Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura proposed Saturday Japan and South Korea hold talks on a free trade agreement (FTA) as early as January next year.
Driving a hard bargain: Trade agreements easier said than done
Japan is proving a tough negotiator for countries with their hopes pinned on FTAs.

    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.