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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


Iceland eager to reach free trade agreement with Japan
Iceland Foreign Minister Gunnar Sveinsson said his country is eager to reach a free trade agreement with Japan, calling on Tokyo to take “new steps” in this direction.
Azerbaijan, Japan to ink agreement on mutual protection of investments
Azerbaijan and Japan plan to sign a bilateral investment treaty. Japan is involved in the country’s energy and infrastructure sectors.
Abe talks up trade ties with Latin American alliance
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed eagerness Saturday to bolster economic and trade ties with the four Latin American nations that make up the Pacific Alliance, after accelerating the conclusion of a free trade agreement with Colombia.
Colombia, Japan agree to accelerate FTA process
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and the prime minister of Japan agreed to expedite the process of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
The Japan-Mongolia FTA is about cars, minerals and abductees
Mining is expected to become a much larger portion of their overall trade, with an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause instituted to protect companies and allow them to seek compensation if government policy negatively impacts their investments.
Japan, Mongolia sign free trade deal
Japan and Mongolia signed a free-trade deal today, as Tokyo looks to tap the country’s fast-growing economy and its vast supply of natural resources.
EPA with Canada would help Japan, open NAFTA door: Quebec official
Japan should consider concluding a bilateral economic partnership agreement with Canada, which could then be used as a card against the United States in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, Quebec’s minister of international relations and foreign trade said.
Japan, Colombia kick off 3rd round of FTA talks
The two countries agreed to launch FTA talks in September 2012 and held their first round of negotiations in Tokyo last December and the second session in Colombia’s Cali in May.
Japanese PM renews push Gulf trade agreement
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has renewed a push for a free trade agreement with Gulf countries during a visit to the region.
Japanese farmers struggle to make election choices over TPP
With upper house elections approaching, Japanese farmers are skeptical about the Liberal Democratic Party after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his intention to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

    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.