日欧EPA 早期合意で劣勢を巻き返せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 8, 2012)
Early conclusion of Japan-EU EPA needed to catch up with S. Korea
日欧EPA 早期合意で劣勢を巻き返せ(12月7日付・読売社説)

Japan has lagged far behind South Korea in expanding economic partnership relationships with other countries and regional blocs. It needs to even the score by concluding an agreement with the European Union as soon as possible.

The council of EU trade ministers has decided to green-light the start of negotiations for an economic partnership agreement with Japan, which has been a pending issue between the two parties.

Japanese and EU leaders are expected to officially agree on the kickoff of talks as early as January.

The EU had been hesitant to agree to the start of the negotiations due to concerns over a possible surge in imports from Japan. Although it was a long path to reach this point, we welcome the decision by EU officials to sit at the negotiating table.

South Korea, an economic rival to Japan, began negotiations with the EU in 2007 on a free trade agreement, which took effect in July 2011. Under the FTA, the EU and South Korea will gradually lower tariffs on mineral and industrial products, among others, and completely abolish them in five years.


South Korean advantage

The EU levies high tariffs on imports from Japan and others--10 percent on automobiles and 14 percent on flat-screen TVs, for instance. In contrast, the tariff cuts on products from South Korea have started and Seoul has been benefitting from the deal. In the latter half of last year, South Korean automobile exports to the EU doubled compared to the same period in 2010.

It is only natural Japan's automobile and household appliance manufacturers, who are competing with their South Korean counterparts, have an increased sense of crisis. The government must accelerate the promotion of the EPA negotiations with the EU to improve Japan's disadvantageous position.

However, elements of the negotiations are not clear.

The EU said it will cancel the negotiations if it judges Japan's efforts toward market liberalization are insufficient one year after the talks begin. Japan should proceed with caution on this attitude demanding major concessions from Japan.

We are also concerned over the idea of the EU considering invoking a safeguard action--emergency import restriction--if imports of specific products from Japan sharply increase.

Aiming at participation in the Japanese market, the EU is reportedly ready to demand Japan to improve nontariff barriers such as easing safety standards for medical equipment and a review of government procurement in the rail and transportation fields, among others.


Negotiate tenaciously

It is basic in trade negotiations to expand the sphere of free trade, by seeking points of compromise while protecting certain products or industries. Japan should engage in the negotiations patiently, while considering the removal or improvement of nontariff barriers as much as possible.

A major reason behind the EU decision to start EPA negotiations is that Japan has begun preliminary talks toward possible participation in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership framework, a pan-Pacific EPA led by the United States. We believe the EU, which is not participating in the TPP talks, has a strong interest in the moves of Japan and the United States.

In such a situation, Japan should pursue a more strategic move to grab the EU's attention by participating in the TPP negotiations as early as possible to gain a position of strength in the EPA talks.

As it is quite important to provide momentum to the nation's economic growth with the expansion of free trade, Japan must promote a positive trade policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 7, 2012)
(2012年12月7日01時32分  読売新聞)

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