Two agreements between the EU and Japan aim to strengthen trade and the exchange of experiences, including in social affairs.

AD – 05/2018

Negotiations between the EU Commission and Japan over two agreements, one economic partnership (free trade) and one strategic partnership, have now been concluded. It is said that the Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan is the most comprehensive bilateral trade partnership ever negotiated by the European Union. 

Medical devices and pharmaceuticals

In November 2014, Japan adopted the international standard for quality management systems (QMS) on which the EU QMS for medical devices is based. This has led to a significant reduction in the cost of certifying products exported from Europe to Japan. The complicated and duplicative notification system, which hindered the marketing of many European pharmaceutical, medical devices and cosmetics in Japan was abolished on 1 January 2016.  

The new Economic Partnership Agreement will create a more predictable regulatory framework for EU products exported to Japan. The EU and Japan have agreed to simplify approval and clearance procedures and to complete import procedures without undue delay. In doing so, they have ensured that the work of exporters is not hampered by excessive red tape. The agreement will not lower safety standards and does not require the partners to change their domestic policy on issues such as the use of hormones or genetically modified organisms. 

Exemption for public services

The Economic Partnership Agreement contains a number of provisions which apply horizontally to all trade in services, including a provision confirming the partners’ right to regulate. The right of the authorities of EU Member States to keep public services in the public sector is maintained and no government will be forced to privatise or deregulate public services at national or local level. The Member States’ authorities also retain the right to re-nationalise any services that are provided privately. According to the European Commission, this means that Europe itself will decide how healthcare, education and water services should be provided. 

Exchange of experiences with social issues

Article 22 of the draft EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement states that the partners shall promote dialogue and exchange views on policies and legislation to ensure effective consumer protection and improve cooperation in key areas such as product safety, enforcement of consumer law, as well the education, empowerment and protection of consumers. 

The Parties shall enhance cooperation in the area of employment, social affairs and decent work, such as employment policies and social security systems in the context of the social dimension of globalisation and demographic changes, through the exchange of views and experiences and, where appropriate, cooperation activities on issues of common interest (Article 30). 


The EU and Japan will strive to respect, promote and implement internationally recognised labour and social standards and promote decent work based on their respective commitments to relevant international instruments such as the 1998 International Labour Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and the 2008 Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization. 

Finally, in accordance with Article 31, the Parties want to strengthen the exchange of views, information and experiences in the area of health to effectively address cross-border health problems, in particular by cooperating in the prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases, including by promoting, where appropriate, international health agreements. 

Agreements expected to enter into force in 2019

The texts of the agreements were presented by the European Commission to the European Council in April of this year. The European Parliament will also be involved in the discussions. As the Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan contains no provisions on investment, it falls under the exclusive competence of the EU, which simplifies ratification. The European Commission wants the agreement to enter into force by 2019 at the latest. 


More information can be found on the EU Commission’s website