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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 aims to accelerate FTA talks with model accords
Japan plans to accelerate its efforts to conclude free trade agreements with economic partners by holding negotiations based on "model accords," government officials said Tuesday.
Japan seeks free trade deal with Gulf
Japan plans to begin talks with six Gulf Arab states this year toward a free-trade agreement in the aim of securing stable energy supplies, officials said yesterday.
Japan and Chile agree to speed negotiations
Japanese and Chilean officials agreed to continue talks aimed at forging a free trade accord swiftly, government officials said Friday.
Brunei-Japan FTA talks on the cards
Brunei and Japan will hold two-day preparatory talks starting Monday to conclude a bilateral free trade agreement.
Japan, GCC to hold pre-FTA talks
Japan and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council will hold preliminary talks on a free-trade agreement in late May, government sources said Tuesday.
Japan, Chile to hold 1st formal FTA talks on Feb. 23-24
Japan and Chile will hold their first official negotiations aimed at sealing a bilateral free trade agreement on Feb. 23-24 in Tokyo.
Japan pushes for trade accord with GCC states
Japanese Ambassador to Bahrain, Takao Natsume, said his government has proposed an FTA to GCC governments but has yet to schedule the beginning of negotiations. "The main stumbling blocks with previous free trade agreements we have been involved in were in the area of agriculture and since the GCC countries are not huge agriculture producers, we don’t see this as a problem here," he said.
Japan to speed trade talks with Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines
Japan said Saturday it had agreed to accelerate negotiations on separate free-trade pacts with Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines in meetings held ahead of the inaugural East Asia Summit.
Comment: "Smug calculations" lack sincerity, analysis
Japan is craving a "return to Asia", and the kernel of its regional strategy is to "Japanize" regional policies, legal system, industrial division and financial and monetary fields. It mainly targets some ASEAN countries, at the same time avoiding Free Trade Agreement (FTA) but bending on Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Business chiefs urge METI to bolster Asian FTA efforts
Japan’s business leaders want Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshihiro Nikai to promote free-trade agreements between Japan and Asian economies as well as market-opening negotiations under the World Trade Organization.

    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.