EU 'very close' to agreeing new Japanese free trade deal

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The EU is "very close" to securing a new free trade agreement with Japan, according to EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.

A new free trade agreement (FTA) between the European Union and Japan could be on the cards, according to the EU trade commissioner.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Cecilia Malmstrom said the EU is "very close" to finalizing a new trade deal with Japan in a similar vein to the recent Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) signed with Canada, with a breakthrough by the end of 2016 or in early 2017 still a possibility.

The proposed Japanese agreement has a similar scope to CETA, covering almost all aspects of economic activity, but would be a more significant agreement because the Japanese economy is three times as large as Canada's.

Talks over the deal are set to resume this week in Tokyo, with disagreements over auto industry regulations in the Japanese market and the amount of agricultural goods that the EU could export to Japan remaining key sticking points.

Additionally, Japan's negotiators are believed to be concerned about the prospect of a repeat of the diplomatic wrangling that came close to scuppering CETA at the eleventh hour. Because the Canadian deal required the unanimous support of all EU member states to pass, the Wallonia region of Belgium's opposition to the agreement almost derailed the entire process.

Currently, the EU is awaiting a ruling from its highest court on another trade deal with Singapore that would provide clarification on whether such deals can be ratified unilaterally by the EU, or whether a mixed approval process that necessitates the green light from 38 national and regional parliaments needs to be maintained.

Ms Malmstrom said: "We need to make sure that we have a decision-making procedure that is functional and that's why we hope very much that the court will clarify this, so that we can act accordingly.

"It's not about winning or losing in court, it's about having clarification. What is mixed? What is not mixed? And then we can design our trade agreements accordingly."

These ongoing evolutions in Europe's free trade environment could prompt businesses to invest in origin calculation and supplier solicitation software, such as the MIC OCS solution. Tools such as this will help companies remain legally compliant even as regulatory frameworks change.