The agreement is significant in the context of Brexit, which is liable to put major trading frictions between Britain and the EU, easily the UK’s largest trading partner.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit in March the UK would also fall out of the coverage of the more than 50 trade deals the EU has negotiated with third countries, including this latest one with Japan.
The EU-Japan deal will also come as a boost to EU policymakers, as they grapple with Donald Trump’s trade hostilities and also a popular backlash against recent trade deals from within the EU.
“Our economic partnership with Japan - the biggest trade zone ever negotiated – is now very close to becoming a reality,” said the EU’s Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.
“That’s good news for the EU and all supporters of an open and fair international trading system.”
The EU-Japan deal will create a trading zone comprising 635 million people and a third of global GDP.
The major benefit for Japan is that it will increase access for its domestic car manufacturers to the European market.
European exporters will benefit from radically reduced Japanese agricultural import tariffs, with Brussels estimating savings for EU firms of €1bn a year in duties.
Japan will also open up its public procurement market to European firms, as well as liberalising postal services and maritime transport.
The agreement, which is also the first trade deal to include a specific commitment to the Paris Accords on climate change, will now come into force on 1 February 2019.
The Japanese parliament ratified the agreement on 8 December.
The European Parliament voted in favour of the agreement, upon which talks began in 2013, on Wednesday, as expected.
The form and scope of the deal is likely to influence post-Brexit trade negotiations between the UK and the EU, presuming the UK leaves the bloc on 29 March 2019.
Shinichi Iida, Japan’s minister for public diplomacy and media, told The Independent earlier this year that his country’s “first and foremost priority” was rubber-stamping the Brussels deal before work could begin on a free trade agreement with the UK.
But he added that: “Once the Japan-EU economic partnership agreement comes into force, it could provide a very good and sound basis for the future trade between Japan and UK.”
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