Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that Japan and the European Union are “leading the world as the champions of free trade at a time when protectionism has spread.”
He was speaking in Tokyo after signing a sweeping free trade deal with the EU.
The BBC says companies from the EU, the world’s biggest free-trade zone, currently export more than $100bn in goods and services to Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, every year.
Most of the media reports have contrasted the deal with the protectionist approach of President Donald Trump, who is pursuing an “America First” policy.
This approach is seen as stoking up a trade war with China and has also led to tariffs on imports from US allies, including Japan and the EU.
There was particularly good analysis of the deal in the Guardian newspaper, written by its Brussels correspondent Daniel Boffey. It includes a long and revealing quote from the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.
Mr Tusk said: “Politically, it’s a light in the increasing darkness of international politics. We are sending a clear message that you can count on us. We are predictable – both Japan and [the] EU – predictable and responsible and will come to the defence of a world order based on rules, freedom and transparency and common sense. And this political dimension is even more visible today, tomorrow, than two months ago and I am absolutely sure you know what I mean.”
“It’s a light in the increasing darkness of international politics” EU Council President Donald Tusk
He continued: “Let me say that today is a good day not only for all the Japanese and Europeans but for all reasonable people of this world who believe in mutual respect and cooperation …We are putting in place the largest bilateral trade deal ever. This is an act of enormous strategic importance for the rules-based international order, at a time when some are questioning this order.”
Asked how he would respond to concerns that free trade could threaten jobs, Tusk responded: “Political uncertainty, tariff wars, excessive rhetoric, unpredictability, irresponsibility; they are a real risks for our businesses, not trade agreements.”
The Japanese government is presenting the free trade deal with Europe as a successful outcome of Prime Minister Abe’s “Abenomics” policies.
They are designed to stimulate the economy by promoting Japanese businesses and brands internationally.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry says it expects “even higher growth and economic returns moving forward due to the Abenomics policy, promoting free, fair and open trade through agreements like the EPA and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP 11).”
That is a reference to the ambitious multilateral TPP trade deal initiated by Mr Abe. It previously had the backing of President Obama but President Trump withdraw America from the negotiations soon after taking office.
Mr Abe is now trying to revive the arrangement without the involvement of the United States but has left the door open for America to join, if it wishes to do so.