EU-Japan relations: new trade agreement dawn of a new era 

Trade between the EU and Japan is set to receive a major boost ©AP images/European Union-EP  

EU-Japan relations are set to receive a major lift with the signing of a major trade agreement and a strategic partnership.

Although EU and Japan already enjoy good relations, they have agreed to upgrade their partnership against a background of increasing international tensions and protectionism.

The proposed trade agreement will make it easier for European companies to export to Japan, while a planned strategic partnership will boost cooperation on common challenges such as security and the environment.

MEPs endorsed the trade agreement during the December plenary. The Council will also have to approve both agreements before they can enter into force.


EU companies export more than €58 billion worth of goods and €28 billion in services to Japan a year, but the trade agreement will boost this even further by removing remaining barriers to trade. This includes eliminating 90% of tariffs on more than 90% of the EU’s exports to Japan. This is expected to save EU exporters about €1 billion in customs duties a year. In addition, Japan will recognise the special status of more than 200 European agricultural products from specific regions, known as Geographical Indications. Measures will also be taken to lower non-tariff barriers, for example by relying on international standards rather than specific Japanese requirements.

Lead MEP Pedro Silva Pereira, a Portuguese member of the S&D group, said the agreement was being concluded at an important time: “The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement sends a timely signal in support of open, fair, values- and rules-based trade at a time of increasing protectionism and an erratic trade policy by US President Donald Trump. This agreement also represents an opportunity for the European Union (EU) in the Asia-Pacific, especially since the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) regional free trade agreement, and helps promote EU values and high standards in the region.”

The MEP said the agreement is about much more than just stimulating trade: “This agreement will foster not only closer bilateral economic ties, but also concrete cooperation on sustainable development like the fight against climate change. The agreement can, in addition, enhance coordination on multilateral issues with Japan and help shape rules for the global economy in line with our high standards and shared values of respect for human rights, democracy and the rules of law..”

Strategic partnership

The Strategic Partnership Agreement is a legally binding pact, covering cooperation on a range of issues. Lead MEP Alojz Peterle, a Slovenian member of the EPP group, said: "[It] will deepen cooperation with Japan across key sectors, dealing with topics such as climate change, health research and cybercrime. This partnership is an answer to current global challenges which transcend borders and also confirms our commitment to an international, rules-based order.”

Model for other countries

Both MEPs said they saw the agreements as possible models for cooperation with other countries.

Silva Perreira said: “It is the first EU trade agreement with a commitment to the implementation of the Paris Agreement to combat climate change and with dedicated chapters on corporate governance and small and medium-sized enterprises. The agreement also upholds the EU’s high standards on environmental protection, consumer protection, food safety and labour rights, protects public services and respects the right to regulate.”

Peterle said: “The two agreements have been possible because the EU and Japan are like-minded partners with shared values of democracy and a common vision for global trade and cooperation... high standards and the readiness to address current global challenges should be the cornerstone of future cooperation agreements.”