EU-Japan FTA: Scoping exercise nearing conclusion
By Lénaïc Vaudin d’Imécourt | Wednesday 30 May 2012
While the ‘scoping exercise’ for a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement (DCFTA) with Japan has been progressing over the past year, the member states remain divided on whether to grant the European Commission a mandate to open formal negotiations.
The issue ill be debated on 31 May during a meeting of the member states’ ministers for trade in Brussels. Meanwhile, the EU-Japan scoping exercise will also continue. “We are close to the end of the exercise,” an EU Presidency source said. However, a number of sticking points remain.
European industries have been calling on the Commission to push the authorities in Tokyo to end a certain number of trade barriers before allowing the official launch of FTA negotiations. “Certain barriers should be removed before negotiations start, as a sign of good will that Japan is indeed willing to open its market to competition from Europe,” BusinessEurope’s Director-General Philippe de Buck told Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht in a letter dated 25 May. “To date, none of the identified barriers has been effectively removed,” the letter says.
Though tariffs between the EU and Japan are generally low, Tokyo imposes a set of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade, which include access to its public procurement market, a zoning regime in the automotive sector and geographical indicators. The burning issue in current discussions with the Japanese is railway procurement, an EU source said. “It is extremely difficult to sell anything on the Japanese procurement market” because of the operational safety clause, which prevents foreign companies from selling trains in Japan, Carsten Dannöhl, senior adviser at BusinessEurope, told
Europolitics. “This is a situation where it excludes all foreign providers,” he added.
If there is significant progress on these remaining issues before ministers meet on 31 May, the Commission might be in a position to propose the opening of trade negotiations to the Council, the EU source explained. But it remains “very unlikely”.
The 27 ministers will also debate ‘green’ growth, one of the Danes’ priorities during their six months Presidency, which is coming to an end on 30 June. EU-US dialogue on growth and jobs will also be discussed, ahead of the presentation of the Commission’s interim report, due late June. In addition, the Council will take stock of negotiations with Canada regarding the finalisation of a bilateral trade deal – according to the Commission, discussions are on track to be concluded by the end of 2012 – and will adopt, without discussion, a decision authorising the signing and provisional application of a multipartite FTA with Columbia and Peru, as well as a decision allowing the opening of FTA negotiations with Vietnam, which will start shortly after the Council meeting.