It's not the clash of civilizations, but it's no doubt the clash of opposing philosophies when it comes to trade. As Japan and the European Union signed a free trade agreement last week, the United States held a hearing on the possibility of imposing tariffs on European and Japanese car imports.

At stake, though, is more than just what taxes may or may not be levied. A successful conclusion to the trade pact between Brussels and Tokyo could also herald possibilities for deepening relations more broadly between the two sides that could decrease Washington's influence on the global stage.

The Japan-EU Free Trade Agreement is certainly an ambitious one. Together, the two sides will account for nearly one-third of global GDP and the deal will eventually lift all tariffs across the board, which will allow European agricultural goods to penetrate the world's third-largest economy, and Japanese autos to be free of 10 percent tariffs.