bilaterals.org logo
bilaterals.org logo

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, 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.’
Japan and US break new ground on free digital trade
Japanese and American trade negotiators have reached a broad agreement on the digital economy, in which digital products are tariff-free and businesses can host servers wherever they choose.
Trade agreement between Mercosur and Japan may be signed later this year
Driven by the agreement between Mercosur and the European Union, the government is working to enable a trade alliance between the South American bloc and Japan.
Japan, US start working-level talks for bilateral trade pact
Officials from Japan and the United States started a three-day meeting to discuss a bilateral trade agreement, focusing on tariff cuts in agricultural and industrial products.
Japan and US officials to hold working-level trade session in Washington next week
The Japanese and US governments will hold a working-level session in Washington to accelerate their trade talks
Japan: G20 Leaders’ Summit to focus on free trade
Under Japan, G20 focuses on fixing current account imbalances with multilateral policy coordination not bilateral trade deals.
Japan and U.S. seek compromise on car and industrial-goods tariffs in working-level talks
Japan and the United States tried to find middle ground Thursday in working-level negotiations on lifting or cutting tariffs on vehicles and other industrial goods, as they sought to hammer out a bilateral trade agreement.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer hopes for farm deal with Japan ’in next several weeks’
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressed hope Wednesday that the United States and Japan will soon reach a deal on agricultural tariff cuts as part of efforts to strike a bilateral trade agreement.
US-Japan trade deal progress likely in ’months’: US official
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer tells Congress that Japanese authorities ’understand completely’ the US desire for trade access to Japan and that efforts to reach a new trade agreement should bear fruit soon
Japan and US officials hold talks to advance trade negotiations
Officials from Japan and the United States started a two-day meeting Monday in Washington to advance negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement.

    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.