TOKYO: Japan and the European Union signed a sweeping free trade deal on Tuesday, saying they were sending a clear message against protectionism as Washington puts up barriers and threatens a trade war.
The deal signed in Tokyo is the largest ever negotiated by the EU and creates a massive free trade zone, eliminating tariffs for everything from Japanese cars to French cheese.
It also provides a stark counterpoint to US President Donald Trump’s aggressive ‘America First’ protectionism, which has seen Washington impose trade tariffs on allies and rivals alike.
“We are sending a clear message that we stand together against protectionism,” EU Council President Donald Tusk said after the agreement was signed. Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said the signatories of the agreement were making “a statement about free and fair trade, we are showing that we are stronger and better off when we work together”.
Trump has unsettled America’s allies and provoked the ire of its rivals with bombastic statements, hefty trade tariffs and threats of trade war.
Abe said the agreement showed the unshaken political will of Japan and the EU to lead the world as the champions of free trade at a time when protectionism had spread.
Agreed last December, the deal is the biggest ever negotiated by the EU, according to Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas, and will create a free trade zone covering nearly a third of the world’s GDP.
The EU – the world’s biggest single market with 28 countries and 500 million people – is trying to boost alliances in the face of Trump’s protectionist administration.
On Sunday, the US president fuelled rising rancour by labelling the EU, along with Russia and China, a foe of the US and repeating his assertion that the EU has “really taken advantage of us on trade”.
Under the trade agreement, the EU will open its market to Japan’s auto industry, with Tokyo in return scrapping barriers to EU farming products, especially dairy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2018.