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Leaked terms of huge EU-Japan trade deal spark environmental alarm

  • A new trade deal between the European Union (EU) and Japan is set to become one of the biggest ever.
  • The deal would alleviate certain trade barriers, improve access to automobile and machinery industries for both Japan and the EU and establish new protocols for the resolution of investment disputes.
  • Conservation NGOs are critical of the deal’s terms, which they say lack “any binding obligations” to environmental protection, and will result in lower standards against illegal logging.

A new trade deal between the European Union (EU) and Japan is set to become one of the biggest ever. But leaked documents are making conservationists worry about its environmental repercussions.

The documents reveal the terms for the Japan-EU trade agreement (JEFTA), and were published June 23 by Greenpeace on trade-leaks.org. Expected to be signed in the next several weeks, the deal would alleviate certain trade barriers, improve access to automobile and machinery industries for both Japan and the EU and establish new protocols for the resolution of investment disputes.

But environmental NGOs are raising the alarm, saying the deal would likely result in increased illegal logging and timber smuggling.

“New trade deals bring great risks for lowering environmental standards, unless they contain strict safeguards,” said Alexander von Bismarck, Executive Director of the watchdog NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “The JEFTA is extremely weak in this regard, and threatens to derail the global effort against illegal timber trade by placing Japan’s ineffective voluntary measures on par with the mandatory EU Timber Regulation.”

The world’s fourth-largest importer of wood products, Japan recently enacted its Clean Wood Act, which consists of a voluntary system of registration for timber companies without clear penalties for those found in violation of logging standards. In contrast, other major importers like the EU, U.S. and Australia have more stringent monitoring and enforcement systems in place to help ensure the timber they import comes from legal sources.

Illegally logged tree in Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

The JEFTA documents do reference environmental protection. However, the EIA is labeling such efforts as “vague” and lacking “any binding obligations,” according to their statement.

The document leak was preceded by an analysis of JEFTA by the European Commission. The analysis found the deal would result in an overall positive impact on energy consumption and CO2 emissions. However, it warns there may be risks when it comes to timber imports from non-EU countries.

“The European Commission’s own experts concluded that JEFTA will increase trade in illegally sourced timber, with severe consequences for the world’s forests and for legitimate forest producers in the EU,” von Bismarck said. “Japan’s import laws need to be brought in line with international standards – not the other way around.”

The documents also don’t include reference to other environmental concerns, such as Japan’s controversial whaling industry nor the country’s fisheries.

Requests for comment sent to the European Commission and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were unanswered by press time.

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