TTIP, CETA, JEFTA - have they learned nothing?
Today, the Japanese government and the EU signed the JEFTA free trade agreement. "What TTIP is for the US, and CETA is for Canada, JEFTA is for the EU's trade relations with Japan. More of the same, hardly-disguised blunders", said Helmut Scholz of the left-wing GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament. "For employee protection, citizens' economic participation and environmental protection, again, nothing binding is contained in the agreement. I am particularly disappointed that an important opportunity has been missed to have Japan restrict its whale hunting as a concession to the trade deal. But not a single whale has been saved."
Scholz considers it remarkable that there was mutually agreed recognition of the adequacy of data protection regulations. This "taboo break" was especially important to Japanese companies. "If this adequacy decision is confirmed by the Council and Parliament, data exchange and trade in personal data between European and Japanese companies will be just as seamless as it is within the EU," explains Scholz. "This is unfortunately ushering in a new era of profit-driven usage of personal data gained from consumer behaviour, especially in consumer electronics, advertising, and the film and television industry."
The free trade pact between the two economic areas, in preparation since 2013, aims to reduce tariffs and other trade barriers. Japan is the third largest economy in the world after the US and China. Together, the EU and Japan have more than 600 million inhabitants. Measured by economic strength, the JEFTA agreement could create the largest free trade area in the world. Together, the two partners currently account for nearly 30 percent of global economic output. “It is no coincidence that the final push for the deal was made in the shadow of the major dispute over a global trade war, the threats to the rules-based multilateral trading system, and the corresponding decision of President Trump to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership Agreement”.
"Mistakes made in TTIP and CETA, the analogous agreements with the US and Canada, were repeated in the JEFTA agreement," says Helmut Scholz. While TTIP is currently on hold, and cannot be continued under the current changed economic and political conditions from the point of view of the Commission, the CETA agreement came into force provisionally last year after ratification by Council and Parliament. "This was done despite massive protests, not only from civil society and other circles critical of EU trade policy, but even from the business community".
However, the JEFTA agreement does not cover investor protection. This is to be dealt with in a separate agreement - also with a view to an opinion of the Court of Justice of the European Union, according to which investment agreements are necessarily subject to ratification also at Member State level.
"In JEFTA, the so-called compromises are at the expense of consumers, small producers, and companies," Scholz criticized. "Much is clear from the fine print". However, JEFTA's main problem remains that the agreement "deprives parliaments in both Europe and Japan of regulatory control, and establishes an economic partnership that goes far beyond trade". The now-negotiated adequacy decision on data protection and data trade, for example, could bring lower data protection for European consumers. "People are increasingly losing control over what companies do with their personal information. I would like to remind the Commission and Council that data protection is a fundamental right in the EU. You have no right to make our data a commodity!"
For Japanese small farmers, the complete lifting of tariffs threatens their very existence "if they are fully exposed to the competition of cheap food from Europe," says Scholz. “Two-thirds of Japanese farmers are over 60 years old and farm very small plots. Their traditions will now end."
"The contractual provisions make it possible for JEFTA, under the pretext of reducing trade and investment barriers, to level down consumer and environmental protection standards as well. Japan has already had to abolish two long lists of provisions, as a precondition for our EU to accept to sit down at the negotiating table. This also applies to key aspects of today's social and economic development, such as environmental and social sustainability and labour standards."
Completely inadequate responses were made to concerns, particularly from development organizations, that JEFTA promoted the trafficking of illegally-harvested timber. Hardly controlled in Japan so far, the tropical wood could now reach the European market through this back door.
"With the vote in the European Parliament still scheduled for the coming months and before ratification in Council, MEPs must show the red card to the governments and reject the agreement. Everything else would mean ignoring the concerns of people in Europe and Japan once again."