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Opportunities to Expand to New Markets: Japan


In February 2019, the EU signed the long awaited Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan. Businesses and consumers across Europe and in Japan can now take advantage of the largest open trade zone in the world.

This article aims to help Bulgarian companies interested in market opportunities in Japan by providing key facts on the agreement and useful links to more detailed information about the regulations in the different sectors.


EU-Japan trade relationship – facts and figures

– Japan is the EU’s 2nd biggest trading partner in Asia after China with EU firms exporting over €58bn in goods and €28bn in services to Japan every year

– Japan is the EU’s 6th most important trading partner worldwide

– Almost 74,000 EU companies are exporting to Japan, 78% of those are smaller firms

– 600,000 jobs are tied to EU exports to Japan

The agreement is also expected to increase the exports of processed foods by up to 180%, chemical exports from the EU to Japan by 22% and mechanical engineering shipments by 16%.  



Bulgaria – Japan trade relationship – facts and figures

  • 257 Bulgarian companies export goods and services to Japan
  • 6 134 jobs are supported
  • Bulgaria exports to Japan mainly snails and sea snails, wine and biscuits
  • Japan is Bulgaria’s 18th biggest trade partner outside the EU
  • Goods and services exports totaled €40M, while the value of Bulgarian imports from Japan – €105M



Benefits under the EU-Japan Agreement

The Economic Partnership Agreement removes the vast majority of the €1 billion of duties paid annually by EU companies exporting to Japan. Once the agreement is fully implemented, Japan will have scrapped customs duties on 97% of goods imported from the EU.   The agreement also removes a number of long-standing non-tariff barriers, for example by endorsing international standards on cars. It will also break down barriers for key EU food and drink exporters to 127 million Japanese consumers and will increase export opportunities in a range of other sectors. Annual trade between the EU and Japan could increase by nearly €36 billion once the agreement is implemented in full.

The EU and Japan have agreed to set ambitious standards on sustainable development, and the text includes for the first time a specific commitment to the Paris climate agreement.


With regards to agricultural exports from the EU, the agreement will, in particular:

  • – scrap Japanese duties on many cheeses such as Gouda and Cheddar (which currently are at 29.8%) as well as on wine exports (currently at 15% on average);
  • – allow the EU to increase its beef exports to Japan substantially, while on pork there will be duty-free trade in processed meat and almost duty-free trade for fresh meat;
  • – ensure the protection in Japan of more than 200 high-quality European agricultural products, so called Geographical Indications (GIs), and the protection of a selection of Japanese GIs in the EU.


The agreement also secures the opening of services markets, in particular financial services, e-commerce, telecommunications and transport. It furthermore:

  • – facilitates to EU companies access to the procurement markets of 54 large Japanese cities, and removes obstacles to procurement in the economically important railway sector at national level;
  • – addresses specific sensitivities in the EU, for instance in the automotive sector, with transition periods of up to 7 years before customs duties are eliminated.


The agreement also includes a comprehensive chapter on trade and sustainable development; includes specific elements to simplify for small and medium-sized businesses; sets very high standards of labour, safety, environmental and consumer protection; strengthens EU and Japan’s commitments on sustainable development and climate change and fully safeguards public services.

Concerning data protection, the EU and Japan adopted decisions on 23 January of this year to allow personal data to flow freely and safely between the two partners. They agreed to recognise each other’s data protection systems as ‘equivalent’, which will create the world’s largest area of safe data flows.


Useful links

Dedicated website including: