In the context of the forthcoming signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Japan and the European Union, The Romanian Institute for the Study of the Asia-Pacific (RISAP) organized the conference „Romania and the Japan-EU EPA”, on July 9, 2018. This free trade agreement (FTA) is the European Union’s largest FTA to date and it will have a considerable impact on trade and investment flows between Europe and Japan. Romania, a country that hosts numerous Japanese investments, will also be influenced by the agreement, which will open new opportunities for Romanian exporters.
The conference featured a panel of four distinguished speakers (in the order of their speeches): His Excellency Mr. Kisaburo Ishii, Ambassador of Japan to Romania, Mr. Ioan Mircea Pașcu, Vice President of the European Parliament, Ms. Gabriela Drăgan, General Director of the European Institute of Romania and Mr. Keisuke Mizuno, General Director of JETRO Bucharest. After the panel, Mr. Ion Vișoiu, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Asia-Pacific Division, delivered remarks prepared by Ms. Monica Gheorghiță, State Secretary for Global Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, who, due to unforeseen circumstances, was unable to take part in the conference. The conference was moderated by Mr. Andrei Lungu, president of RISAP.
The conference was attended by over 70 participants, including diplomats from Embassies of EU member states and Embassies of Asia-Pacific states, Romanian Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament, Romanian diplomats and officials, directors of Japanese companies present in Romania, professors and experts, journalists and members of the general public interested in Japan.
In the opening speech, the president of RISAP, Mr. Andrei Lungu, described Japan and the European Union as active players when it comes to negotiating FTAs in the past few years, both having signed other important agreements, such as the The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU, or the The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), between Japan and ten other countries in Asia and America. He also expressed the hope that Romanian companies will be able to capitalize on the opportunities offered by the EPA, following the path of other success stories from the EU, like that of a Polish company that produces and exports pottery.
H.E. Ambassador Kisaburo Ishii, the first speaker to take the floor, offered an overview of the strategic and economic importance of the EPA, which, as the largest FTA in the world, sends a clear message against protectionism and in support of globalization. Ambassador Ishii highlighted how the EPA will improve market access to Japan for European companies, including small and medium enterprises. Ambassador Ishii also talked about the EPA’s importance for Romania and about bilateral relations between Romania and Japan. His Excellency highlighted Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe’s desire for improved relations, manifested through his proposal in Bucharest, in January 2018, to begin negotiations for elevating relations to the level of a strategic partnership.
Ms. Gabriela Drăgan, General Director of the European Institute of Romania, the next speaker, focused on the necessity of the EPA, its provisions and benefits, and the process of ratification, including the next steps. Ms. Drăgan presented the main provisions of the EPA, which aims to set high standards regarding trade and investment. She also walked the audience through the history of the agreement and then focused on the steps which are necessary for the agreement to enter into force. It is important for the EPA to be ratified before the conclusion of Brexit, in order for its provisions to equally apply to the UK for at least two more years after the UK leaves the EU, in March 2019.
Mr. Keisuke Mizuno, the General Director of JETRO Bucharest, the Romanian office of the Japan External Trade Organization, described the importance of Japanese investments in Romania and the main opportunities of the EPA. Mr. Mizuno began by explaining the role of JETRO, while also presenting the numerous Japanese investments in Romania, ranging from the automotive sector to IT. He then focused on the advantages of the EU-Japan EPA, which include not just the reduction of tariffs, but also the protection of Geographic Indications (under the agreement, seven Romanian GIs from the wine sector, like Cotnari or Murfatlar, will be protected in Japan) or providing access to Japanese government procurement for EU companies. Mr. Mizuno concluded by mentioning that the EPA will also help increase Japanese investments in Romania, where around 40.000 workers are already employed by Japanese companies, a number that is similar to those in France or Italy and higher than that in Spain, which are far larger countries.
Mr. Ion Vișoiu, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, then delivered the remarks prepared by Ms. Monica Gheorghiță, State Secretary for Global Affairs in the ministry. He talked about the importance of the agreement and the signal it sends, while also enumerating the benefits offered by the EPA. Mr. Vișoiu acknowledged the growing importance of Japanese investments in Romania. Romania is interested in the diversification of its export markets, with Japan capable of playing an important role in this. Mr. Vișoiu explained that the EPA will be especially helpful in the export of wines (the current tariffs of 15% will be scrapped) or fresh and processed meat.