As newly elected chairman of the European Business Council in Japan (EBC), I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to The Japan Times for this ongoing opportunity to address its readers on Europe Day, which marks the 69th anniversary of the signing of the Schuman Declaration on May 9, 1950, regarded by many as the starting point of European integration.

The EBC is the trade policy arm of the European national Chambers of Commerce in Japan; since 1972, it has been working to improve the trade and investment environment for European companies in this country. Some 350 executives of more than 200 companies participate directly in one or more of the EBC’s industry committees, which cover a wide variety of economic sectors and help European business to grow in Japan.

2019 will be remembered as a most exciting year with regards to Europe-Japan relations, thanks to the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement (EPA) that entered into force on Feb. 1. Europe has now two distinct trade agreements with Japan — the Switzerland-Japan free trade agreement and the EU-Japan EPA. Both reflect a “vision” of growth and freedom of trade in goods and services and strongly link two economic areas that together cover one-third of what is produced on our planet.

The importance of the EPA to both European Union and Japanese business is enormous. From an EU perspective, it is aimed at boosting exports in sectors such as food products, clothing and shoes, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, vehicles and machinery. The result will be increased growth and more jobs, not only in companies that already have a presence in Japan, but also in those entering this market for the first time thanks to the EPA. The benefits will be felt across the EU and Japanese economies and significantly, among consumers, who will enjoy a wider selection of competitively priced quality products.

In addition to trade, the effects of the EPA on the general business environment will improve efficiency and safety not only regarding goods and services, but also in areas such as intellectual property rights and personal data management. These are greater public concerns in view of the great importance of e-commerce and internet-based services.

The EBC greatly appreciates the hard work on both sides to reach this point. We are proud of the contribution we have been able to make to the process in offering insights and information from our own experience. We are keen to continue our support since, in the end, an agreement is only as good as its implementation. For EU business, this means that tariff reduction and removal must be continuously monitored, in addition to the lifting of current nontariff barriers and the move toward higher integration of standards. Similarly, public procurement markets must become open and accessible, and geographical indications and intellectual property must be respected. For this purpose, the EBC and its committees dedicate significant time and resources to monitor EPA implementation.

However, the work of the EBC does not end with the EPA; a significant number of issues hindering EU business in Japan lie outside the scope of the agreement. Some of these issues are specific to the EU, but many affect all companies, domestic and foreign, and ultimately restrict consumer choice and inflate costs. The EBC will, therefore, continue to highlight them and make practical recommendations for how they should be resolved. The EBC does want to emphasize this message — a great portion of our recommendations will benefit companies and consumers, independent of nationality. EBC work is made possible by the continuing support of its stakeholders, in particular the European national chambers of commerce, their corporate members who have also joined the EBC, and other business organizations in Japan. Together with the Delegation of the European Union to Japan and the European national embassies in Tokyo, who consistently offer their unique insight and guidance, we are working toward the success of European business in Japan and, in general, to have more of a European presence in this country.

The EU and Japan are now working steadily to achieve similar goals regarding trade policies and greater harmonization of their societies. The EBC is convinced that with the EPA, the EU and Japan have entered into a new partnership that will promote increased trade and integration not only in financial terms, but also as two open economies that believe in free trade. This is very much needed in the current global environment where more inward-looking policies prevail. We look forward to taking the next steps in this new partnership.

The EU Special was compiled in collaboration with the Delegation of the European Union to Japan and the European Business Council in Japan. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.


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