In December 2017, the European Commission announced that it had finalised the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (JEEPA) and released a series of agreed texts. The provisions on animal welfare contained in the text are sadly weak, and even made weaker by the architecture of the chapter in which they are included!
In July 2017, when both countries politically concluded their trade deal, the provisions agreed on animal welfare were not publicly released. At that moment, Eurogroup for Animals called for the EU to use this opportunity of a discussion with a like-minded – and developed – partner to adopt language that “will be sufficiently strong, so that it pushes both partners to improve their own animal welfare standards and to tackle more specific issues, such as animal testing for cosmetic purposes in Japan.”
The result published last December is disappointing. The two provisions on animal welfare constitute the second section of the “Good Regulatory Practices and Regulatory Cooperation” chapter, or seven lines out of a 13-page chapter.
The language used in the provisions is even vaguer than usually: the focus of any animal welfare cooperation is restricted to farm animals, and the objective is only set as to improve “understanding on their respective laws and regulations”. The establishment of a dedicated working group is not mandatory. It can only occur with the mutual consent of both parties and would only aim at exchanging information, expertise and experience in the field of animal welfare, and at exploring “the possibility of promoting further cooperation”.
In addition to the narrow and convoluted nature of the provisions, their location in the text underlines their weakness. The first section of the ‘Regulatory Cooperation’ chapter addresses regulatory questions and strives to reaffirm the partners’ right to regulate in the pursuit of public policy objectives. A list of objectives is provided, among which public health, environment, labour conditions, consumers, social protection, animal and plant life and health, personal data, cybersecurity, cultural diversity, financial stability and energy security. For all those fields, mechanisms are set up to improve regulatory cooperation: early information mechanisms, public consultations, impact assessments, exchange of information, focal points, potential activities etc. The section also set up a Committee on Regulatory Cooperation, wherein “interested persons” might be invited to participate (by mutual consent).
Animal Welfare is not included in any of these mechanisms. Singling it out in the next section of the chapter was not a way to highlight the importance of the topic, but to ensure (as confirmed in the final provisions) that all the mechanisms described in the first section of the chapter do not apply to it. In addition, no dispute settlement mechanism cover the chapter.
Regarding the issue of whaling, it remains to be seen if the language included in the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) Chapter will create a new channel for the EU to discuss with Japan its refusal to abide by the ruling issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) condemning its practices. In any case, as the EU has not yet modified its approach on the enforcement mechanisms contained in TSD chapters, it would not allow for the EU to take any action if Japan refuses such talks.
The EU-Japan trade agreement is thus clearly a missed opportunity for animal welfare.