In an exclusive JBCE interview with the Chairman of the European
Parliament’s International Trade (INTA) Committee MEP Vital
Moreira (S&D, Portugal), Mr. Takuya Fukumoto, Secretary-General
of the JBCE, and Mr. Kenji Fujii, chairman of the JBCE Trade Policy
Committee, gained valuable insights on the political climate for a
potential liberalisation of trade between the two regions.
Mr. Moreira made his first trip to Japan in mid-February. After discussions
with key stakeholders from the Japanese government and industry, Mr.
Moreira found that while in Japan there is a broad consensus and a
strong political will for launching possible free trade negotiations with
the EU, the latter has more diverse views on the issue.
Although the initiative lies with the European Commission to
officially launch negotiations, the Commission must first obtain
authorisation and a mandate from the Council. Prior to approaching
the Council, the European Commission will need to see evidence
that the EU’s most important concerns will be substantially
addressed in the course of negotiations in order to be reasonably
assured of success. Mr. Moreira cited the well-known Copenhagen
Report (2010), which outlines obstacles to the liberalisation of trade
between the two regions. Two of the largest challenges are access
to public procurement and non-tariff barriers. There is evidence
that increasing access to public markets and removing NTBs would
bring significant benefits to the flow of trade between the EU and
Japan, but these two areas are not the easiest to address.
The European Parliament’s role and priorities
Addressing the Parliament’s role in trade policy, Mr. Moreira stressed
that the Lisbon Treaty has brought about a dramatic change in trade
policy, as well as in the capacity of the INTA Committee. Following the
ratification of the Treaty, the European Parliament is now fully involved
in the process of co-adopting trade policy legislation with the Council.
When asked about the upcoming priorities of the INTA Committee,
Mr. Moreira pointed to several decisions on individual legislation
including the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) as well as
upcoming discussions on the general policy direction of trade
and investment policies proposed by the European Commission.
Furthermore, the monitoring of on-going FTA negotiations and
discussing trade relations with strategic partners, including the USA,
China, Russia and Japan, are also of great importance.
When requesting an FTA negotiation mandate from the Council,
the Commission must simultaneously inform the Parliament. The
Parliament therefore has the capacity to present a position at
this stage via a variety of different mechanisms. Amongst others
it could request that the EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht
address the Parliament, it could adopt a resolution, hold public
hearings, request studies, and table oral and written questions to
the Commission and the Council. Mr. Moreira emphasised that
the impact of the European Parliament at the early stages of trade
negotiations should not be underestimated.
With seven political groups in the European Parliament, the
Commission and the Council cannot assume consensus regarding
trade agreements. Free trade is a highly polarised issue. Some
political groups in the Parliament are in favour of free trade, whilst
others are not. The Commission should therefore be very interested
in engaging the European Parliament at an early stage in order to
gauge MEPs’ feelings regarding required assurances and desirable
safeguards in order to ensure that the negotiations are successful
and that the final agreement is acceptable to Parliament.
The future outlook
Mr. Moreira noted two key moments for the European Parliament
to take action on EU-Japan trade policy, namely, the EU-Japan
Summit in May and the INTA Committee’s upcoming visit to Japan
in October. In addition, he noted an oral question on EU-Japan trade
relations which was tabled deliberately prior to the May Summit. The
objective of the INTA Committee’s visit in October will be to gain a
better understanding of exactly what is at stake for both European
and Japanese industry. “Any agreement between the EU and Japan
only makes sense if it will be ambitious. It should be not only related
to goods, but also to services, public procurement, and strong
protection of IPR,” Mr. Moreira argued.
When asked how Japanese industries can best collaborate with the
European Parliament in order to contribute effectively to EU policymaking
and policy implementation, Mr. Moreira confirmed that it
will be important to be represented as the business community. He
reiterated that the duty of the European Parliament is to listen to all
stakeholders and confirmed that the INTA Committee is prepared to
take all opinions into account, sending a strong signal to the JBCE that
their voice will be heard.
JBCE Trade Policy Committee