Japan bows to tariff cuts in EU trade negotiations


Japan’s pasta lovers may soon slurp spaghetti on the cheap with lower duties on European Union-imported noodles, which the Japanese government conceded to in hopes of scoring lower EU tariffs for Japanese goods such as cars and electronics.

Japan’s duty on European pasta, currently 30 yen (26 cents) per kilogram, would be lowered to 12 yen or less, as agreed in negotiations over the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement, or EPA.

Chief negotiators from Japan and the EU began meetings in Tokyo on Monday. If the two bodies can agree broadly on approaches to key fields, then Fumio Kishida, Japan’s foreign minister, and Cecilia Malmstrom, European trade commissioner, will begin cabinet-level meetings in hopes of hammering out a general framework within the year.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership stipulated that Japan’s duties on spaghetti and macaroni would be cut by 60% starting the ninth year after the treaty took effect. The EU, however, had sought cuts beyond those put forth in the pact. Japanese pasta makers use mostly imported durum wheat, so an influx of noodles from abroad is not expected to put too big a dent in Japanese agriculture.

The EU is pushing similarly larger reductions on cheese and pork. However, farming industry-related legislators in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party are extremely wary of opening the market, given the effect it would have on Japanese livestock farmers. In a joint meeting Monday including the party’s farming and forestry committee, many voices cautioned against “making any rash judgments.”

US President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to withdraw from the TPP has scuttled hopes the trade agreement would be adopted soon, if at all. By going ahead with Japan-EU EPA negotiations, the Japanese government is hoping to keep the momentum alive on free trade.