TOKYO — Japanese consumers one day could find themselves paying less for pasta, chocolate and cookies from Europe.
Japanese negotiators taking part in talks for the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement, which are expected to conclude soon, are considering cutting, even abolishing, tariffs on some processed foods.
By meeting the European Union halfway on processed foods, Tokyo wants the EU to give Japanese automobiles more access to its market.
The talks are taking place in Japan, and negotiators want to conclude a broad agreement by early July.
Japan and the EU launched the talks in 2013, aiming to reach a deal by the end of 2015. When that did not happen, they shot for 2016. But with Donald Trump and other political upheavals last year, both sides seem eager to really wrap things up this time.
The EU is asking Japan to concede on dairy, beef, pork and other agriculture products, while Japan is asking the EU to abolish a 10% tariff on Japanese vehicles.
The negotiators are also zeroing in on many familiar European processed foods. Of the top 50 EU exports, 12 are processed food items like chocolate and pasta.
As things stand now, Japan’s negotiators are willing to concede on points they think would have little impact on domestic industry. They are mulling a proposal to make cuts to the tariff on pasta products that are priced at 30 yen (27 cents) per kilogram. The tariff would be reduced in phases to 12 yen or lower.
Japan’s negotiators believe this would bring little harm to Japanese farmers.
Japan might also be willing to phase out the tariff on cookies, which now stands at 13% to 15%, and trim the 10% tariff on chocolate products.
But the country’s negotiators face much more difficult decisions regarding wine and cheese. The EU is demanding that Japan’s tariff on wine be immediately abandoned. Although Japan plans to eventually do this, right now it wants to protect the country’s winemakers. This is because 70% of the wine sold in Japan is imported. Only 4% of the wine sold in Japan is made in the country from domestically grown grapes.
The EU is also demanding that Japan abolish its tariffs on mozzarella and Camembert cheese. Japan is reluctant to do so because it refused to give in on these points in concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
U.S. President Trump took the U.S. out of the TPP during his first few days in office, pretty much sinking the pact.
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