Still this year, in December 2018, the European Parliament will approve of or reject the largest Trade Agreement, the EU has ever negotiated. There are indications pointing towards approval, not least, because many myths regarding the deal with Japan are circulating. We intend to set the record straight!
After in over 190 meetings with the EU Commission, business lobbyists were largely able to assert their interests, they are now trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes by pretending that the Trade Agreement between Japan and the European Union (JEFTA) would not just benefit the few but the many. That the frequently voiced arguments, for example the creation of new jobs, are without foundation, can be illustrated by the following example:
Facts, which are not facts at all
In a press release, the MEP Paul Rübig (EPP) is pleased about 5,000 Jobs, which JEFTA - according to his statement - would create in Austria. Being questioned by the AK, he said he would refer to an ifo Study and calculations by the Austrian Economic Chamber (WKÖ). Even though the ifo Study does not estimate how many jobs might be created in Austria by the Trade Agreement, it nevertheless provides three scenarios and forecasts for export and import growth. Depending on the scenario, estimates are between 14.5 % und 139 % export growth and between 3.6 % and 158 % import growth for Austria. Thereby the widely separated scenarios distinguish themselves in respect of the degree of liberalisation. Based on this Study, the WKÖ calculates in its Factsheet on JEFTA: 139 % export growth = 5,000 jobs. However, there is no mention of the calculation method and the fact that this is an unrealistic scenario and that therefore the result is widely fluctuating. Whilst the mentioned ifo Study from 2017 bases its calculation still on a 0.42 % Europe-wide GDP growth, the Commission’s own analysis from 2018 arrives at a total and one-off growth effect of only 0.14 % by 2035. It is probably deliberate that the Study does not mention an increase in employment. Hence, summarizing one can say that even if it is intended to give the impression, it is not a fact that JEFTA will create 5,000 jobs in Austria.
Job growth is only one of the many myths surrounding JEFTA. Apart from that, false claims about negotiated labour rights, environmental and data protection standards, the protection of forests, public services as well as the precautionary principle are also circulating. Therefore, AK EUROPA - in cooperation with European trade unions and NGOs - has in a paper scrutinised and dispelled nine myths and put the record straight regarding the Trade Agreement with Japan.
For example the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has made the following information on the precautionary principle in JEFTA available: “The precautionary principle is firmly embedded in primary EU law (Art. 191 TFEU). This means that it cannot be abolished by an agreement under international law, such as the EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement.” The precautionary principle in European environmental and consumer protection law does indeed ensure that the state acts precautionary, even if science has not (yet) reached agreement on the potential harmfulness. This means, even if there is only a suspicion that a substance, a product or a production method may be harmful, these can be prohibited as a precautionary measure. However, Chapter 7 on technical trade barriers and health-related and phytosanitary measures refers to the knowledge-based approach of the WTO instead to the precautionary principle, according to which a product may only be banned after its harmfulness has been scientifically proven. This is particularly problematic in the areas of health protection and food safety. The EU has already lost two disputes, in which it referred to the precautionary principle, to the knowledge-based WTO approach. To prevent that the WTO definition is used, the precautionary principle would have to be enshrined in the JEFTA treaty text as a horizontal principle, hence applying to the entire agreement. Thus, the current enshrinement in individual agreement chapters is not sufficient and does not protect the precautionary principle pursuant to EU law in JEFTA.
Another myth, which refutes the JEFTA Myths and Facts about the Economic Partnership between the EU and Japan, is the claim that JEFTA would guarantee the highest labour and environmental standards. Fact is, that the sustainability chapter, which should ensure this, does not provide for any sanctions. Hence, violations can neither be sued nor punished. Apart from this, Japan so far has not even fully ratified the eight minimum core labour standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). First talks have been initiated, but in particular the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105), poses - because of her correctional practices - a problem for Japan. With regard to environmental standards, the parties only confirm obligations already assumed and exchange information. All regulations in respect of multilateral environmental agreements, such as the Paris Agreement, are also entirely non-binding.
In a more detailed paper, German NGOs have compared further claims regarding the Trade Agreement with Japan with reality and thereby demystified JEFTA.
In favour – EU-Parliament inclined to accept the Agreement
After years of negotiating JEFTA behind closed doors, one is now making a dash regarding the ratification process. In April 2018, the Trade Agreement was presented to the Member States and adopted by the Council on 6 July 2018. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed it on 17 July 2018. The European Parliament can now vote in favour of the Agreement or reject it; Parliament cannot make any amendments. The European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) already voiced its opinion of JEFTA in October 2018; on 5 November the Committee responsible, the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade (INTA), also voted. 26 of 40 MEPs voted in favour of JEFTA; only 9 voted against. Especially the faction of Social Democrats (S&D) was split. In two weeks’ time, the entire Parliament will vote on the Trade Agreement. Hence, time is of the essence to at last dispel the JEFTA myths!