[By Minoru Morita, political analyst]
Japan and the European Union both had their own intentions in trying to come to a political consensus on the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement.
As shown in Britain’s decision to leave the EU, the EU’s idealism is on the verge of collapse, having European politicians on the ropes. To prevent other members from leaving the union, EU negotiators had to take action to expand their sales channels in the strong agriculture sector. They therefore asked for an import quota for soft cheeses and an immediate elimination of tariffs on wine.
On the other hand, Japan, whose relationship with the United States has lately been unstable, was eager to realize a free trade deal with the EU in a bid to change the global trend towards protectionism. The Japanese government followed the previous negotiation tactics and accepted its counterpart’s demands to some extent. They couldn’t put Japan first.
But let us think twice. The EU has a strong agricultural policy with focus on farmer support measures such as income compensation and rural community revitalization. If Japan is going to accept the political agreement, the Japanese agriculture industry will suffer a serious blow because they would be forced to compete under conditions significantly different from those of the EU. The Japanese government needs to give full support to farmers such as by using profits from auto exports which will increase with the EU’s abolition of tariffs on automobiles.
People in rural communities are especially frustrated by the trade negotiations because they were conducted behind closed doors. Increasing number of Japanese people are getting fed up with the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s high-handed approach based on favoritism, as can be seen also in the defeat of LDP-backed candidates in the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election and the Shizuoka Prefectural Assembly by-election.
If the situation continues as it is, the sweeping victory of the opposition parties’ candidates in the Hokkaido and Tohoku farming regions in the Upper House election last summer could spread nationwide in future elections.