At one among remarkably few such events, the EESC provided an occasion for civil society organisations to share their views on the agreement in principle for an Economic Partnership between the EU and Japan, reached in July 2017. While participants agreed on the geostrategic importance of the agreement and on the positive impact it would have both on the EU and Japanese economies, some expressed concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the deal. "Unlike TTIP, these negotiations have not been raised to the attention of the public opinion" indicated the Chair of the EESC Follow-up Committee for International Trade Mrs Benedicte Federspiel. The EESC has been working actively to change that, not least through the organisation of this public conference, in which DG Trade, the Japanese Mission to the EU, and EU stakeholders were actively involved.
Krzysztof Pater, President of the Japan Follow-up Committee at the EESC, reiterated the need to closely involve civil society in the monitoring and the implementation of the agreement by setting up a civil society Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) as soon as possible after the entry into force of the agreement. He emphasized that all along negotiations, representatives from the EESC have built excellent working relations with Japanese counterpart organisations, which would be a good starting point for cooperation under the agreement.
"The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement marks a new chapter in the relations between the EU and Japan," said in his welcoming speech H.E. Kazuo Kodama, the Japanese Ambassador to the European Union. "It will bring our two economies closer." The Ambassador underlined not only the tremendous economic but also the strategic importance of the agreement and pointed out that the two sides shared the same values of the rule of law, democracy and commitment to free and open trade. He noted that there were still issues that needed to be agreed by both sides, such as investment protection, but also emphasized that the agreement was very positively received by most Japanese stakeholders.
"We have a firm objective to finalise the agreement by the end of the year," said EU chief negotiator Mauro Raffaele Petriccione. He added that the agreement could enter into force by the end of next year. "Japan is one of our partners whose philosophy of governance is closest to ours. In times like this alliances are crucial – we need to build them around respect for common values." Mr Petriccione also highlighted the role for civil society in monitoring the impact of the agreement enshrined in the form of consultative bodies and a joint civil society dialogue.
Participants agreed that the agreement is far reaching and ambitious and it opens opportunities for the EU businesses in a large number of sectors as it improves market access, resolves a number of long standing regulatory obstacles, protects EU geographical indications, gives EU companies access to public procurement in Japan and includes specific chapters on how to make the agreement beneficial for the SMES. Participants indicated as important outstanding issues investment protection and data flows as well as the impact of the agreement on environment and on consumers. The Sustainable Development Chapter in the agreement was welcomed but its enforceability was challenged.