One day after Trump and Putin met in Helsinki to dismantle the principle of multilateralism and a few days after the US president called the EU one of America’s biggest enemies, the European Union and Japan are responding with the signing of a free trade agreement that concerns 600 million people. It’s a trade partnership strengthened by a strategic partnership. It is the largest agreement ever signed by the EU.
For the first time in a trade partnership text there is a specific reference to compliance with the Paris Treaty on Climate Change. For Europeans, the signing in Tokyo on Tuesday was an opportunity to respond remotely to the attacks in Trump and defend cooperative global commerce.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called it “a statement about the future of free and fair trade.”
“We believe that we can make each other stronger, safer and more prosperous when we work together in a rules-based international system,” he said. “It is about values, principles and finding win-win solutions for all those concerned. … As far as we are concerned, there is no protection in protectionism – and there is no unity where there is unilateralism.”
More directly, Donald Tusk, President of the EU Council: “We are sending a clear message that we stand together against protectionism.”
The agreement includes a chapter on data protection, which establishes the mutual recognition of the two systems, with an integration in Japan of the principles of the General Data Protection Regulation, which has recently entered into force in the EU. Nuclear non-proliferation is also mentioned.
During the meeting in Tokyo, the EU and Japan also discussed international issues: in particular, the Iranian nuclear agreement, which they both defend and which Trump wants to eliminate, penalizing companies that have relations with Iran in the US. The trade agreement provides for the elimination of more than one billion trade tariffs between the EU and Japan. In particular, Japan, a relatively closed economy, opens up to the import of European agricultural products (recognizing more than 200 registered designations of origin). In return, Europe will lower customs tariffs on Japanese cars and components.
At the end of the month, Trump will receive Juncker in Washington. The Western front is now divided—to Putin’s great satisfaction—between the destroyers of regulation who believe only in power relations, and the defenders of multilateralism. The EU is pushing to seek an agreement with China, even if Europe has problems with the aggressive trade policy of Beijing.
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