EU-Japan: Strategic partnership has never been stronger

Important summit in Brussels discusses economic ties, connectivity, data protection and climate change

Photo: EU Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Donald Tusk, European Council President during the summit in Brussels.

We, the leaders of the European Union and Japan, reaffirm our resolve to work together for peace, security, sustainable development and prosperity, based on respect for international law. We will continue working together to support effective multilateralism, democracy, human rights and the rules-based international order with the United Nations at its core. This reads the Joint Statement of the leaders made at the 26th EU-Japan summit that took place in Brussels on 25 April.

At this top-level meeting, the Union was represented by Donald Tusk, European Council President, and by Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President, and Japan - by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The summit focussed on trade, strategic cooperation in connectivity, data protection and climate change, foreign and security policy and preparation of June G20 meeting that will be held in Osaka. In its work took part EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, EC Vice President Jyrki Katainen and EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom.

This meeting was a continuation of the very successful summit last year in July, when the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement and the EU-Japan Strategic partnership agreement were sealed.

Our strategic partnership has never been stronger, it is built on shared values of liberal democracy, human rights and our commitment to openness, cooperation as well as free and fair trade, stated President Tusk during the news conference after the summit. Only two months ago, our bond was further deepened by the entry into force of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, the largest trade deal in the world, he said adding that by implementing it swiftly, we are “boosting prosperity and quality of life of our people”. He also stressed that it is a clear message to the world that Japan and Europe stand side by side.

The current summit is taking place at an important moment for Japan, just few days before ascension of Crown Prince Naruhito to the throne and the start of new Reiwa era. Translated, the new era's name means 'Beautiful Harmony'. President Tusk even suggested “Reiwa could also be the motto of our EU-Japan relations”.            

 Besides many other topics, the leader's meeting and the immediately following plenary also took stock of the initial impact of the two agreements, both of which entered into force already on 1 February this year, with a note that the strategic partnership agreement still applies just partly. Even though applied for less than three months, the economic deal shows a rather big impact on liberalising EU-Japan trade. It removes 97% the customs duties on EU exports to Japan. Moreover, it is the biggest agreement ever negotiated by the EU and the first that includes a specific commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.

Our new Economic Partnership Agreement is a landmark moment for global trade, President Juncker said underlining that the vast majority of the €1 billion of duties paid annually by EU companies exporting to Japan and vice-versa have been removed. This will help trade between us increase by up to nearly €36 billion and we now need to ensure that this success story continues by making sure we stay on track with the implementation, he added. The EC President also said: “Japan can rely on the European Union on both counts: to strengthen multilateralism, and to support its new era of Reiwa, which means “beautiful harmony” and perfectly sums up our partnership”.

The trade deal scraps as well a score of long-standing non-tariff barriers, for example by endorsing international standards on cars. It will create substantial new opportunities for EU agricultural exports, removing the previous Japanese tariffs on products such as cheeses or wines, while protecting EU intellectual property rights on Japanese markets. It will also open up services markets and significantly increase EU companies' access to Japan's procurement bids. The agreement is based on the highest standards of labour, safety, environment and consumer protection.

The export of European companies to Japan was €64.7bn in goods for 2018 and €34.7bn in services for 2017, the annual trade between the two partners could increase by nearly €36bn.

Saying to the press that “we can confirm a great progress in Japan-EU relations”, Prime Minister Abe accented on the fact that Japan and EU work closely for the success of the G20 Osaka Summit. “The most important subject for the international community is to maintain the free trade regime under such an important situation, we agreed to cooperate with the EU and the G20 to send a strong message to the international community to promote a free trade and towards the WTO reform”, he asserted.

During the summit EU and Japanese leaders discussed also several regional and international issues, including the situation in Ukraine and in the Korean Peninsula. They agreed to intensify security and defence cooperation, in areas such as counter-terrorism, cyber and maritime security and crisis management. The EU and Japan will work more closely together on sustainable connectivity between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as on quality infrastructure. Concerning data protection, both parties will continue to work together to shape global data protection standards. Earlier this year the EU and Japan recognised each other's data protection laws, creating the world's largest area of safe data transfers.

Both sides also agreed to strengthen cooperation in the field of energy, transport, and research and innovation and reaffirmed their strong commitment to implement the Paris agreement on climate change. They committed to join their efforts to address environmental challenges such as plastics in the ocean.

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