Commission divided over launch of free trade talks with Tokyo
By Lénaïc Vaudin d’Imécourt | Wednesday 04 July 2012
On the heels of several member states, the European Parliament and a number of European automobile producers have successively voiced their concerns over the launch of free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with Japan. The European Commission’s services are also divided over the issue,
According to a Commission note, dated 2 July and seen by
Europolitics, “a head of cabinet is expressing his commissioner’s concerns regarding the consequences on employment such a trade deal [with Japan] would have in some European industrial sectors, notably in the automobile sector”. A Commission source confirmed that said concerns had been voiced by the EU executive’s Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General, headed by Commissioner Antonio Tajani, and that a college decision on this issue had been blocked in June over requests that Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht press the Japanese side into more concessions in the car sector.
European business organisations, together with the member states, have long been worried about the possible launch of FTA talks with Japan. According to representatives of the European automobile industry, the FTA would disadvantage EU car markers, the same way the EU-South Korea FTA did, ie by flooding the EU market with cheap cars following the removal of tariff barriers. Member states, mainly France and Germany, are claiming that Japanese manufacturers will enjoy greater benefits from the removal of import and export tariffs than the European ones, who would mainly profit from the removal of non-tariff barriers. But the member states remain sceptical over Japan’s commitment to do so.
DG Trade continues to argue that there is no more room for concessions in the automobile sector. On the other hand, Japan could, in exchange, agree to EU demands in the two other debated areas of geographical indicators and public procurement.
The College of Commissioners is to decide, on 18 July, whether to ask the Council for a mandate to open trade negotiations with Japan. Since most of the commissioners are inclined to give the go-ahead to the launch of talks with Tokyo, Tajani is expected to back down, the EU source explained. DG Trade’s spokesperson, John Clancy, who refused to comment on the ongoing feud between the Commission’s services, noted that should the college agree on 18 July, the Commission would not ask for a mandate before the summer break, thereby postponing the next steps until the autumn.
An EU-Japan summit, originally scheduled for July, was recently postponed due to the member states’ reluctance to open talks with Tokyo.