The European Parliament on Wednesday approved a historic free trade agreement between the European Union and Japan, described as “the largest bilateral trade agreement ever negotiated by the EU”.
The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement is expected to eliminate almost all tariffs, representing an annual sum of 1 billion euros for EU companies, according to the text of the resolution adopted by 474 votes for, 152 against and 40 abstentions.
“This is not only the most important free trade agreement in the history of Europe, it is also the most important in the world,” said Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, adding that the agreement would create the largest free trade area in the world with more than 600 million people.
While the most sensitive sectors, such as rice production, are protected, other products such as wine, cheese, pork, pasta, chocolate and biscuits will be zero-rated “either immediately or after a transition period”.
A total of 205 products with a protected European geographical indication will continue to benefit from protection in order to help EU SMEs which account for 78 percent of exports to Japan.
For its part, Japan undertakes to open its railway tenders and public procurement in its main cities to European competition. E-commerce, international shipping and postal services will also be liberalised.
The European Parliament welcomed the high level of protection of the environment and the labour, the commitment to the fight against climate change within the framework of the Paris Agreement while encouraging both parties to combat illegal logging.
However NGOs and Socialist Euro deputies argue that environmental and labour standards will be undermined by the deal.
“The agreement presented does not include binding and enforceable clauses on sustainable development, and Japan has not ratified all ILO (International Labour Organisation) fundamental Conventions,” said Socialist MEPs in a statement explaining why they voted against the deal.
The treaty with Japan “Confirms that the European trade policy remains blind and deaf to social and environmental disorders that it generates”, the Foundation for Nature and Man, the Veblen Institute and Foodwatch said in a joint statement.
“Negotiated in the utmost opacity” and ratified “in general indifference”, this agreement “threatens social rights, agriculture, food, the environment, climate and even our democratic principles”, insist the three organisations, according to AFP.
The European Parliament has also approved a Strategic Partnership Agreement which extends cooperation between the two parties in areas such as energy, education, research and development, development, the fight against climate change and terrorism.