On behalf of the European Business Council in Japan (EBC), I would like to express my gratitude to The Japan Times for this opportunity to address its readers on Europe Day, which marks the 68th anniversary of the signing of the Schuman Declaration on May 9, 1950, a date regarded as the starting point of European integration.
2017 was a milestone year for further integration of EU-Japan relations. After more than four years of intensive discussions, the leaders of Japan and the European Union were able to announce in December that they had reached the conclusion of negotiations on an economic partnership agreement (EPA). The two sides confirmed that the EPA would boost mutual trade by improving market access for goods, services and investment; open up opportunities in public procurement markets; remove non-tariff barriers; and protect geographical indications and intellectual property rights.
2018 should prove to be even more exciting with the prospect of the leaders of Japan and the EU signing the agreement in July, paving the way for its entry into force in early 2019.
The importance of the EPA to both EU and Japanese businesses is enormous. From an EU perspective, it promises to boost exports in sectors such as food products, clothing and shoes, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. The result should be more 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. The benefits will be felt across the EU and Japanese economies and significantly, among consumers, who will enjoy a wider choice of competitively priced, high-quality products.
The EBC greatly appreciates the hard work on both sides to reach this landmark. We are proud of the contribution that we as an organization have been able to make to the process in offering insights and technical information from our own experience, and we are keen to continue our support, as preparations are made for its implementation. In fact, for the EBC, this is the most important phase because, in the end, an agreement is only as good as its results. For EU businesses, this means that tariff reduction and removal must be completed on time; current non-tariff barriers must be lifted and not replaced by others; public procurement markets must become open and accessible; and geographical indications and intellectual property must be respected. What is more, the spirit of the EPA must be translated into action within the machinery of government, with the authorities promoting closer cooperation between the EU and Japanese companies and ensuring both sides are represented in policy discussions.
Much has still to be done before the EPA comes into effect and its benefits can be fully enjoyed by the economy, industry and consumers. The EBC will closely follow developments and actively monitor how the agreement is ultimately implemented on the ground. No doubt this will be a major focus of the EBC’s activities in the years ahead.
Yet the work of the EBC does not end with the EPA: A significant number of issues affecting the EU business in Japan lie outside the scope of the agreement. Some of these issues are specific to the EU, but very many affect all companies, domestic and foreign, and serve only to delay new products, inflate costs and restrict consumer choice. EBC expert committees will therefore continue to highlight them and make practical recommendations for how they should be resolved.
The EBC is positive about the Japanese economy. As the successful conclusion of the EPA shows, there has been a very definite shift in attitude toward the role of foreign trade, both exports and imports, as well as toward investment in Japan. Japanese customers are seeking out innovative European products and services. Additionally, Japan’s regions are actively promoting European investment and Japanese companies are adopting new attitudes toward doing business. The EBC very much welcomes these developments and will continue to promote further European involvement in the Japanese economy. For their part, European firms continue working to build trust in the Japanese market and are pursuing business opportunities that have appeared as a result of the many changes that have taken place in Japan over the past few years, to which the EBC lends its wholehearted support.
We in the EBC are committed to helping the EU and Japan reach new levels of mutual trade and economic growth. We entered 2018 with new optimism that the authorities on both sides are working for these same goals. Finalizing the EPA is the first milestone achieved: We look forward to many more.
The EU Special contents were 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.