The ministerial meeting to be held between Fumio Kishida and European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström on Feb. 17 in Bonn, Germany, will decide to postpone negotiations on a “general agreement” on core elements in the Japan-European Union (EU) economic partnership agreement (EPA), sources said on Feb. 16. The two parties deemed that it would take time to negotiate tariffs on agricultural products. Fears are growing that negotiations will be shelved due to the national elections in several European countries in March and thereafter.
The ministerial conference will be held on the sidelines of the Feb. 16–17 meeting of the G-20 foreign ministers. The bilateral meeting is being held at the EU’s suggestion, but “it will not be a meeting where something is decided,” said a source close to the negotiations. It looks like it will simply reconfirm the policy that Japan and the EU will work toward achieving a general agreement as soon as possible.
Arrangements are underway for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Europe in March, and both Japan and the EU were aiming to reach a decision by the time of the prime minister’s trip.
Regarding the negotiations on agricultural product tariffs, however, the EU is pushing for more market opening than in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement in the areas of cheese and pork. JA-ZENCHU (Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives) is strongly opposed to that, and the January meeting of Japanese and EU chief negotiators failed to reach an agreement.
Europe will have major elections starting with the Dutch general elections in March and including the French presidential election [in April]. Because Europe will have trouble deciding important policies at such a time, it will likely be difficult for Japan and the EU to promptly reach an agreement on the EPA if the decision is not made in February.
The Japanese government, however, has not changed its plan to continue EPA negotiations and seeks to reach an agreement as soon as possible even if Europe is in the midst of election campaigns.
Japan will enter bilateral trade negotiations with the Trump administration as early as this spring. Japan aims to decide trade rules with the EU before entering full-fledged negotiations with the United States and “to use the rules as an ‘axis’ in the negotiations with the United States,” said a top official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.