How is Europe seen in Japan

Travelogue: How JEFTA is seen in Japan

Just over a week ago, the governments of the EU member states - including the German federal government - approved the controversial JEFTA trade agreement with Japan. The agreement was symbolically signed yesterday. At the beginning of July I was on the road in Tokyo to exchange ideas with Japanese civil society and to spread our criticism of the agreement there. It was an important exchange that strengthens and promotes the movements on both sides.

Max Bank from LobbyControl at the lecture on JEFTA in Tokyo in the premises of our alliance partners from the Pacific Asia Resource Center (PARC).

JEFTA in Japan: Even more blatant secrecy

While the political dispute over JEFTA was coming to a head in Europe and the issue of water supply was boiling, there was very little of it in Japan. Trade agreements there hardly attract any public attention - and certainly not criticism of them.

This is not least due to the fact that citizens there learn much less about trade policy than we do in Europe. It is downright desperate when the Japanese colleagues say that, besides the exchange with us, their main source of information about JEFTA is the website of the EU Commission.

Because that clearly shows how bad the information situation of Japanese civil society is. And it also shows that our criticism of the lack of transparency in EU trade policy in recent years and the partial successes we have achieved with it are of enormous international importance. Firstly, citizens of other countries with which the EU is negotiating can also request information. And secondly, in its political disputes with the Japanese government, Japanese civil society refers to our struggle for more transparency in the EU.

However, one cannot be satisfied with the situation in Europe for a long time either. Trade Commissioner Malmström is organizing “civil society dialogues” in Brussels, where she mainly cheers corporate lobbyists. And the EU Commission does put position papers on individual chapters on its website, in some cases also its negotiating positions - but not the contract texts that are actually being negotiated.

This partial transparency has only existed since the Commission came under massive criticism during the TTIP negotiations with the USA for its secret strategy. And the following still applies: the key information that civil society needs is the negotiating text. This is the only way to check what is actually included in the complicated trade agreement. So anyone who insists on transparency in trade policy must fight for the text of the negotiation to be published. And we will continue to do so! Because that is in the interests of citizens both in Europe and beyond.

Read our critical analysis of the JEFTA agreement.

One-sided corporate influence is a matter of course

But back to the trip: During my lecture in Tokyo I also talked about the one-sided influence of the group on the JEFTA negotiations, which we have already reported on. 89 percent of the meetings took place with lobbyists from large corporations; small and medium-sized companies and trade unions played no role at all. Civil society only made up four percent of the meetings.

But that didn't shock the Japanese civil society present. Because in Japan it goes without saying that in trade policy only the corporate lobby sits at the negotiating table and is optimally supplied with information on the agreement. Right at the forefront is the powerful Japanese industrial association Keidanren. Together with its European counterpart BusinessEurope, the association had made comprehensive proposals for regulatory cooperation in JEFTA and expressly welcomed the finished chapter a week ago.

In addition, in Japan, changing sides between ministries in companies is the order of the day. Ministerial officials there retire at 60, but usually continue to work and are often offered a high-ranking position. For this reason, they are often very accommodating in their work with regard to corporate interests.

A spark of hope: mutual inspiration and close cooperation against the lobbying power of corporations

The impressions from Tokyo make it clear: It is inspiring and important to be in an exchange, it shows that we are confronted with similar problems, and it strengthens international criticism of agreements like JEFTA, which primarily serve corporate interests. It also helps not to let us play off against each other. What Trump is doing right now, namely building a line of conflict between the US and Europe, stirs up hatred and is misleading. Because the actual line of conflict does not lie between the USA and Europe, but between corporate power and democracy. And we have to keep that in mind. Only if we defend ourselves against the political dominance of corporate interests on both sides will we achieve a more democratic and transparent trade policy. We will take this as a leitmotif for our work in the coming months, when the parliaments in Japan and the EU will vote on JEFTA.

Sign now for a change of course in trade policy!

More information and impressions from Japan in our video:

Together for a strong citizens' movement against the trade agreement with Japan

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Tags: EU trade policy, EU-Japan, secret negotiations, trade war, JEFTA, lobbyism in the EU, Malmström, transparency, Trump | Permalink