Japanese business has been hit hard by the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and Korea, galvanising political will in Tokyo to push quickly for its own FTA, negotiators on both sides have told EURACTIV.
The European Union and Japan made commitments in May this year to launch "pre-negotiations" but failed to set a precise timeline and maintained opposing views on the automotive sector and other sensitive areas.
However, crucial ‘scoping exercises’ being conducted by the European Commission are due to conclude shortly and are likely to give the green light to full negotiations, according to socialist MEP Vital Moreira.
The Portuguese, who chairs the parliament’s committee on international trade, said that he had led a delegation to Japan this month where he had noticed a marked change in atmosphere from a similar mission he conducted at the beginning of the year.
Japanese business is applying pressure for a deal on government
There was more political determination to drive for a deal and Japanese business is organising itself into industry sectors in order to apply itself to the issue, Moreira told a symposium on prospects for a trade deal held at the Centre in Brussels yesterday (18 October).
He added that on the crucial deal-blocking issue of non-trade barriers (NTBs) – local rules and standards that hinder trade – the Japanese now recognise that these are a serious issue for the Europeans, and must be negotiated.
Moreira said that previously the Japanese simply refused to accept that NTBs were part of the equation.
“The Korean FTA has been a watershed in terms of reaction from the Japanese,” he said, “industry has been galvanised and is now piling pressure on the Japanese government.”
Arnaud Brunet, Sony’s director of European external relations, told the symposium: “The Korean deal has been a kind of electro-shock for Japanese companies, coming especially as it did at a time [following the tsunami] which was extremely difficult for the country.”
Japanese EU ambassador – do not lose this window of opportunity
Kojiro Shiojiro, the Japanese ambassador to the EU, confirmed the impact of the Korean deal in a separate interview with EURACTIV.
He told yesterday's meeting: “Japan and Europe should not miss this chance to negotiate a deal. This is a good chance, but I do not know how long this political window of opportunity will last, that is why we want to finalise the scoping exercises quickly and conclude a deal as soon as possible.”
Bruno Julien-Malvy, an official working on the Japan desk at the European Commission’s DG Trade, said that the scoping exercises were underway and added that the Commission was also currently undertaking an impact assessment exercise to determine what the trade effects of a deal would be.