Japanese Prime Minister, EU Leaders Provide Update on EU-Japan Trade Agreement

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with several top European leaders over the past week, with progress on the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) being a key topic of discussion. On May 4, Abe was joined by Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, at a press conference in Brussels in which they committed to completing negotiations on the agreement by the end of 2016.

The latest round of EU-Japan trade negotiations was held in mid-April in Tokyo, but few details were released by either side following the meetings. The talks were originally launched in 2013 with a target date for completion of December 2015.

Although the EU-Japan EPA negotiations are not advancing as quickly as planned, the slow pace at which participating countries are addressing approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) raises the possibility that the EU could complete its negotiations with Japan and implement the agreement before TPP is ratified and implemented. Pork-exporting countries participating in TPP – which include the United States, Canada, Chile and Mexico – are watching the Japan-EU negotiations very closely to see whether the terms of agreement put EU pork exports to Japan on equal footing with the level of access these countries negotiated in TPP.

Most U.S. congressional leaders say TPP approval is unlikely to be taken up prior to the November 2016 elections, and some are doubtful that it can even be approved in a lame duck session of Congress. In an interview this week with Agri-Pulse, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the prospects for TPP approval look “bleak” for the remainder of this year. He said TPP could still be addressed in 2017 by a new administration, but noted that none of the remaining presidential candidates is supportive of TPP.

On a related note, legislation aimed at ratifying and implementing TPP will be introduced in the New Zealand Parliament on May 9 and is scheduled to receive its first reading on May 12. Prime Minister John Key promoted TPP and addressed criticisms of the agreement earlier this week in a speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.