On October 18th 2018, Campus Treviso hosted the new edition of the Debate Society by the Venice Diplomatic Society. The event is an opportunity for the members of the association to practise their public and debating skills addressing an audience composed by university students. In this Debate, we considered the Economic and Partnership Agreement signed by the European Union and Japan, where the major topic of discussion was whether the agreement improves workers’ and climate conditions. Starting from a general introduction of the milestones achieved in the agreement we listened to the argumentations in favour and against the topic. Not only did the debaters show a great deal of knowledge in explaining the contents of their positions, each one of them with a unique style, but they also answered the questions brilliantly.
Here we have an example of their work.
On Employment (loss of jobs)
One of our two main questions today Is whether this agreement improves workers’ conditions. Now, it is clear the main interest of workers is remaining employed and so we ask ourselves, will JEFTA cause a loss in jobs in either Japan or the EU?
Previous free trade agreements as well as JEFTA have often been accused of being a source of outsourcing, the cost-cutting practice through which companies are hired in other countries, where manufacture is cheaper, to produce goods and services that would otherwise be made in the first country, which has become in the last decades a worryingly diffused business practice. This happens when one of the two countries can provide cheaper factors of production than the other one, giving it the ability to sell a product at a lower price than the other.
But the Japanese economy and European economies are highly developed, high wages ones: with Japan having an average wage of 40.9k dollars and the EU one of about 44k (OECD data), neither of the parties has a comparative advantage in wages which would make outsourcing convenient and therefore produce a loss of jobs.
Furthermore, both Japan and the EU are forbidden in article 16.2 from lowering levels of protection provided by environmental and labour legislation or failing to enforce said legislation to encourage trade and investment. This point is crucial to the issue of employment,
because it prevents both the parties to the agreement to lower labour standards to produce a comparative advantage which would result in outsourcing.
One of the main worries of the European Union on this particular point was the potential loss of jobs in the automobile sector, due to increased Japanese competitiveness: this has been ruled out by the Commission’s assessment, which also took into consideration Japanese firms working in the EU and foresees only a minimal decrease in employment in the sector.
Therefore, giving the two Parties’ comparable wages and the protection afforded to labour standards by JEFTA, I strongly believe outsourcing will not be an issue brought about by the agreement and employment levels will remain constant if not increase.
Support for the Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Japan is most commonly rooted in the Agreement’s support for the removal of protectionist barriers to trade. Already major trading partners, the European Union and Japan would increase the total sum of imports and exports by significant percentages. It is said that this will greatly improve economic conditions in European Union member states as well as in Japan.
Contrary to the such views that the European Union-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement will bring improved economic conditions both in Europe and Japan, it can be seen by observing similar agreements from the recent past that most likely this Agreement will, on the contrary, have negative consequences on employment in European Union member states and the working conditions of employees in both the European Union and Japan.
Negative effects on employment within European Union member states will be characterized primarily by the outsourcing of jobs to Japan, as is common in trade agreements. While it is true that the Japanese economy is highly skilled and developed, with high-wages and is in no way comparable to lower-income partners in other past trade agreements, the consequences for European employment could still prove threatening to workers in the European Union (despite the Agreement’s promoters claiming that further trade will increase employment). It is well-known that in some ways Japan may already appear a more favourable location for European Union firms looking to cut labour costs. Workers benefits in Japan are significantly less extensive than in many European Union member states. Japanese workers are entitled to less leave. Presently, there is a cap on 20 days, which are often not taken by workers, who fear that taking them will lead to being seen as less reliable. Additionally, the Japanese consistently work longer hours. Annually, Japanese workers, on average, work 800 more hours than German workers and uncompensated overtime is imposed by 35 per cent of Japanese firms.
One of the main concerns that emerge from the signature of this agreement is related to the worsening of work condition and the relative consequences, among which emerge the risk of spreading the Japanese phenomenon known as ‘karoshi’. But if we linger for a moment on the true consequences of JEFTA on working conditions we will notice that they would do nothing but improve since the true problem in Japan does not regard the current legislation but it is instead the cultural sort. Workers in Japan have more guarantees than in some EU countries, like higher minimum wage than in Italy for example, but a strong cultural expectation that imposes inhuman working hours has led to an ever-increasing number of “deaths by too much work” in recent years. I would like here to point out that, as history has proven time and time again, the only way in which a culture may change is by “coming into contact” with another one, exactly what this agreement is aiming to do. We shall remember that JEFTA is not a mere “free trade agreement”, which aims at lowering tariff barriers between the Parties, and that is made obvious by articles like the one quoted earlier (by my colleague) which compels Japan and the EU not to encourage trade and investment by lowering the level of protection offered by environmental and labour laws or failing to enforce them. The same discourse goes for discrimination since we can safely affirm that more EU firms operating in the country could influence the hiring patterns of local firms, thus reducing the gender gap and discrimination in general. (TSIA 213) In a world which is rapidly turning itself away from cosmopolitanism and liberalization I believe that this agreement, with its aims that goes beyond mere trade, is an astonishing message that the EU is looking towards a future which is based on solid collaboration with its partners, at all levels, from finance to environment to entertainment and social security.
In economic sectors where there is already significant competition between European and Japanese firms, this Agreement may be the last straw that tips the bargaining balance against European workers.
As previously implied, connecting to the issue of employment are the vast differences in the working conditions of European and Japanese workers. Not only is there an unequal playing ground in regards to hours worked and workers benefits, but the Agreement also fails to hold Japan accountable for its failings in areas of equal opportunity and anti-discrimination provisions. Japan is one of only 12 ILO member states that have not ratified the ILO 1958 Convention on Discrimination. While formal protection against gender discrimination in the workforce does exist in Japan, the realities prove that there is still much room for improvement. Japan has the third highest gender pay gap in the OECD (around 70 per cent of average male earnings). Such a statistic is shocking for the third largest economy in the world. It is imperative to address these issues, for the sake of Japanese workers, before entering any trade agreement of this calibre. Failure to address them will be an indirect motion of support for Japanese firms’ discrimination towards women.
This Agreement may promise economic prosperity, but an important question must be asked: Will this promised prosperity translate to improved conditions for European and Japanese workers or will it rather translate to a further increase in profits for large firms. At present, it appears that the latter is more likely.
Intro by our Moderator Laura Bassan.
Speeches by Ludovica D'Orsa, Benjamin Clardy, Riccardo Jommi and Mariam Frangulyan.