April 20, 2019

Heiko Maas on first Asian trip to Japan

Heiko Maas in Tokyo – Picture by National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
25-26 July 2018, Tokyo, Japan: Germany and Japan have the potential to be “at the heart of an alliance of multilateralists” amid “huge upheavals” in the world. That was the message delivered by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas as he laid out an ambitious vision for closer bilateral cooperation during a visit to Tokyo, and first to Asia since taking over the German Foreign Ministry. There Maas met with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, for two hours.
The meeting came just a week after European leaders and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe singed a landmark economic partnership agreement, which is to create the largest free trade zone in the world. The agreement was accompanied by a strategic partnership agreement that paves the way for closer coordination between Japan and the European Union on a range of pressing matters.

On the trade front, Maas highlighted how the EU-Japan deal had created new standards for global trade in environmental and climate issues, consumer protection, social standards, and competition law. Ongoing negotiations on investment protection arrangements could also result in new standards in this area according to experts.

That’s what I mean by the term ‘rule shaper’ in quite practical terms,” Maas uttered. “However, it is perhaps even more important to send a signal both eastwards and westwards – one that says that we don’t think of free trade as a zero-sum game. Trade with reliable rules creates prosperity for everyone at the end of the day.”

Maas added, however, that the World Trade Organisation needed to be modernised. He suggested Germany and Japan could act as pioneers in developing modern rules for digital trade and for dealing with state enterprises. The minister also suggested trilateral cooperation with the United States, wherever possible, to fight against unfair practices such as the obstacles companies face in accessing markets in China.

On his part, Minister Taro Kono said he intended to coordinate more closely with Germany, which he noted would begin a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2019.

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