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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


Free trade pact eyed to aid firms in Chile
Japan is considering a free trade agreement with Chile out of concern the Latin American country’s FTA agreements with other nations may put Japanese companies in the area at a disadvantage.
Japan, Malaysia end free-trade talks without agreement
Japan and Malaysia ended three days of talks on a free-trade agreement (FTA) on Saturday still divided over removing import duties on certain products such as Japanese cars, a news report said.
Japan, S Korea hold free trade talks amidst demos
Japan and South Korea opened a new round of free trade talks in Tokyo as nearly 150 labor union members from the two countries clashed with police during a demonstration to oppose the deal.
Japan: FTA talks with 3 nations at crucial stage
Japan’s ongoing negotiations over free trade agreements with Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand are entering a crucial stage.
Japan business leaders want FTA with Chile
The head of the Japanese team on a Japan-Chile economic panel have asked the Japanese government to boost efforts to conclude a bilateral free trade agreement.
Japan: FTA deals deadlocked
Japan’s separate negotiations with Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and South Korea for bilateral free trade agreements have run into a brick wall.
Japan needs more FTAs
In the face of the rapidly growing Chinese economy and a rising number of free trade agreements, Japan is scrambling to reinforce its flagging leadership status in Asia by accelerating FTA negotiations with regional trading partners.
Mexico and Japan expect to sign trade agreement
President Vicente Fox of Mexico and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan will sign a free trade agreement Friday that Mexico hopes will attract more investment from Japanese manufacturers and spur exports across the Pacific.
Tariff-free tequila flow from Mexico to Japan under FTA
Mexico’s tequila industry is expecting a sudden surge in shipments to Japan when the tariff of 25.2 yen per liter is completely removed under a Mexico-Japan free-trade pact that takes effect April 1.
Fear of losing out to China prompts FTA stampede
Panicking suddenly over the specter of being left behind by its Asian neighbors, Japan is rushing to conclude bilateral free-trade agreements, with ministers striving to get stalled talks restarted.

    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.