The EU and Japan signed on Friday (27 September) a holistic partnership to promote investment projects based on rules-based and sustainable principles, and to counter the risks posed by the US and China.
The EU-Japan partnership on sustainable connectivity – a term covering an array of trade, economic, transport and environmental fields – and quality infrastructure was presented to other Asian partners during the EU-Asia connectivity forum held on Friday.
Both partners agreed to “promote free, open, rules-based, fair, non- discriminatory and predictable regional and international trade and investment, transparent procurement practices, the ensuring of debt sustainability and the high standards of economic, fiscal, financial, social and environmental sustainability,” the text reads.
The deal will cover all dimensions of connectivity including digital, transport, energy and people-to-people exchanges.
These principles were already embedded in the landmark EU-Japan strategic partnership agreement and economic partnership agreement, signed last year.
The long-running tariff dispute between the EU and the US could worsen next week, as US President Donald Trump is expected to announce new duties against European products in the context of the Airbus case.
Meanwhile, the EU is still struggling to obtain a more balanced economic relationship with China, opening up its huge market and protecting European firms’ intellectual property.
European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that the agreement represents “first and foremost” a sign of the cooperation between two partners that reject protectionism, embrace openness, and defend a rule-based trading system.
Referring to the bilateral agreements signed last year, Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said that Japan and the EU became “flag bearers of free trade” and “guardians of universal values”.
“Whether it be a single road or a single port, when the EU and Japan undertake something, we are able to build sustainable, comprehensive, and rules-based connectivity, from the Indo-Pacific to the Western Balkans and Africa,” said Abe, who attended the signing ceremony on his way back from the UN General Assembly in New York.
As part of the closer ties the EU and Japan are developing, the Commission recommended to the member states on Friday to open negotiations with Tokyo to allow the transfer and use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data in order to combat terrorism.
In addition, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) signed a memorandum of understanding to enhance their collaboration and promote investment in developing countries.
The agreement takes a step further the EU’s efforts to build a global alliance to counter the US President Donald Trump’s protectionism and unilateralism, on one hand, but also to offer an alternative to China’s controversial investment plans across the world.
In recent years, Europe has relied primarily on free trade deals to project its influence beyond its borders, including with Japan, Singapore or Vietnam.
The initiative is aligned with the EU’s intention to become a more influential global actor.
The incoming Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said that she wants a “geopolitical Commission”.
German minister of Economy, Peter Altmaier, said that “as Europeans, we want to shape the new stage of globalisation”, based on “sound economic growth and development”.
He admitted that “perhaps, we are a little bit late” with this “good” initiative. He added that it would have been “better” if the strategy would have been launched 10 or 15 years ago.
The initiative, however, was received with caution by some Asian nations.
Murat Zhurebekov, Kazakhstan’s vice minister of Energy, warned that new strategies to support connectivity “should not compete or conflict” with current existing dialogues, primarily with China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, currently supported by 152 countries and organisations, including eight Europeans.
Beijing’s massive investment plan, however, is questioned in some countries due to the strict financial conditions that it imposes in host nations and the disregard to some environmental and governance principles.
Korean deputy Economic minister, Kang-hyeon Yun, agreed that ‘One Belt, One Road” plan creates “a lot of problems”.
But he lamented that his country and the EU launched forums to support connectivity last year, but since then “nothing happens”, while US and China progress with their connectivity initiatives.
“We have to catch up and be more action-oriented,” he stressed.
Others were more positive about the new European initiative. The chairman of the Central Economic Commission, Van Binh Nguyen, said that there was “no rivalry” between the EU and China’s strategies. “It will create more opportunities in Asia”, he said, and for that reason “Vietnam gives its full support”.
“This is not a closed initiative”, said Romana Vlahutin, the EU’s ambassador-at-large for connectivity at the European External Action Service.
Altmaier said that the EU and Chinese initiatives are not competing but they are “the two sides of the same coin”.
Bruno Macaes, senior fellow at Hudson Institute said that “Europe needs a grand vision, and that is now being developed under the new Commission”.
He envisaged in the future an “Eurasian supercontinent”, with influences flowing in both directions between China and Europe.