EU, Japan sign major trade deal in 'message against protectionism'

14:05 | 18/07/2018 Global Economy

The deal signed in Tokyo is the largest ever negotiated by the EU and creates a massive free trade zone, eliminating tariffs for everything from Japanese cars to French cheese.

Photo by AFP

It also provides a stark counterpoint to US President Donald Trump's aggressive "America First" protectionism, which has seen Washington impose trade tariffs on allies and rivals alike.

"We are sending a clear message that we stand together against protectionism," EU Council President Donald Tusk said after the agreement was signed.

Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said the signatories of the agreement were making "a statement about free and fair trade, we are showing that we are stronger and better off when we work together."

Trump has unsettled America's allies and provoked the ire of its rivals with bombastic statements, hefty trade tariffs, and threats of a trade war.

Abe said the agreement "shows the world the unshaken political will of Japan and the EU to lead the world as the champions of free trade at a time when protectionism has spread."

Agreed last December, the deal is "the biggest ever negotiated by the European Union," according to Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas, and will create a free trade zone covering nearly a third of the world's GDP.

Under it, Japan will scrap almost all its tariffs on EU goods, particularly dairy items like cheese, though the country's rice industry will remain protected.

The EU will also eliminate about 99 percent of its tariffs on Japanese goods, including crucially removing levies on Japanese cars from the eighth year after the deal is implemented, and scrapping tariffs on car parts immediately.

The agreement must still be ratified by the EU parliament, as well as Japanese lawmakers, but is expected to enter into force from 2019...

United EU-Japan front

The EU is seeking access to one of the world's richest markets, while Japan hopes to jump-start an economy that has struggled to find solid growth.

Junichi Sugawara, a senior research officer at Mizuho Research Institute, said Trump's protectionism had "prompted Japan and the EU to speed up negotiations on the deal."

Abe "has good relations with Trump, but in terms of trade, Japan has sided with the EU," he told AFP.

"Japan and the EU will form a united front against a US threat to impose tariffs on key products such as cars."

Talks last year closed the gap on most remaining issues between the EU and Japan, but a dispute resolution mechanism remains to be negotiated.

Tusk and Juncker arrived in Tokyo from Beijing, where they urged calm instead of "conflict" in international trade.

"It is the common duty of Europe and China, but also America and Russia, not to destroy (the global trade order) but to improve it, not to start trade wars which turned into hot conflicts so often in our history," Tusk said Monday in Beijing.

Theo Vnexpress/AFP