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2017 Trade White Paper emphasizes importance of Japan-EU EPA, free trade

  • June 27, 2017
  • , Nikkei evening edition , p. 3
  • JMH Translation

The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry published the 2017 Trade White Paper on June 27. It stressed that free trade has helped narrow disparities amid a heightening global trend toward protectionism and that the free flow of people and goods enhances economic growth. It also emphasized the importance of reaching an early agreement in the Japan-EU EPA negotiations, which are approaching the final stages.


“Free trade is the foundation of economic development,” the paper stated. This year’s report is unusual in that it reiterated the basic principles that supported Japan’s strong economic growth following World War II. This signifies the government’s concern over the recent global climate that runs counter to the free trade system that was built after World War II, such as the U.S. Trump administration’s unrestrained skepticism toward free trade and increasingly nationalistic policies around the world, including countries in Europe.


The paper refuted these recent trends by stating, “Free trade does not lead to the disparities that concern the public.” It also cited an IMF study that analyzed the Gini coefficient used to gauge income gaps and asserted, “As with education and labor policies, free trade has been contributing to minimizing disparities.”


The paper presented specific examples of the benefits of free trade, such as the ability to import inexpensive raw materials and food products from overseas and the higher growth rate of companies that export products compared to those that only do business domestically. It also cited technological innovations, such as information and communications technology, as the main cause of the wealth gap stating, “Technological innovations automate menial labor done by humans.”


The report avoided making conclusions on whether free trade leads to actual improvements in employment or wages, citing that there are various theories. METI reckons that imports of inexpensive goods and the overseas relocation of manufacturing sites are having a significant impact. “It is important to have relevant and comprehensive ‘21st century trade policies’ that encourage small-to-mid-scale enterprises to export,” explained one METI source.

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