'We must navigate the explosive trade issues,' says Japan's ambassador in Brussels

'We must navigate the explosive trade issues,' says Japan's ambassador in Brussels
By Stefan Grobe
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"We must navigate the explosive trade issues", says Japan's ambassador to the EU ahead of the G20 summit in Osaka


In a few days, one of the world’s largest gatherings of global leaders outside the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York takes place in Osaka.

About 30,000 people, including leaders from over 30 countries and international organisations, their delegations and members of the media will be in town on June 28 and 29.

Much media attention is likely to focus on US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping and their efforts to end a trade war.

Will people someday speak of the “Osaka Summit” as the moment when economic disaster was averted?

Or, will the city’s name be forever associated with blunders and misunderstandings that set the world on the wrong path?

Ahead of the summit meeting, Euronews spoke to Japan's ambassador to the European Union about the thorny issues of trade, cybersecurity, climate change and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's personal relations with Donald Trump.

Euronews: Hello and welcome to the program, I'm Stefan Grobe, and I am joined now by the ambassador of Japan, Mr. Kazuo Kodama.

Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for coming to our studio. We will be talking about the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, which will take place on June 28th-29th, in a couple of days.

This is the first time that Japan hosts the G20 summit and it comes at a very interesting time politically. There are a lot of global problems: there is the issue of trade, the issue of e-commerce and cyber security and of climate change.

So is Osaka a kind of crisis summit?

Kodama: Well, thank you, Stefan, for having me on the program. I think you said it all, you mentioned the three major summit items to be discussed at the summit, the issues that Prime Minister Abe really likes to focus on.

But is this a crisis summit? I would rather not say so. I have been lucky to attend the very first G20 summits. Those meetings were really crisis management summits against the backdrop of the global financial crisis which caused a huge drop in the global trade and caused what we called the global recession.

But on the other hand, although we are not faced with an imminent financial or a Great Recession-type of crisis, trade remains one of the hottest issues against the backdrop of the looming protectionist tendencies and ongoing bilateral trade wars.

So we have to revamp the WTO trade rules, after all the WTO is the centrepiece of our commitment to the rule-based international trading order.

Euronews: You've referred to the United States and China, and both countries are at the brink of a looming trade war. On the other hand, we have the European Union and Japan who are a shining example of multilateralism, now creating the biggest trade bloc in the world.

What can these two sides, the EU and Japan, do to convince the other G20 members to move forward with a rule-based multilateral system?

Kodama: Yes, indeed, on February 1st, the really epochal EU-Japan economic policy agreement entered into force and it created the free-trade area of 30 per cent growth of global GDP and of 40 per cent of global trade conducted by the EU and Japan.

And also let's remind ourselves, and I checked, that 86 per cent of global GDP is produced by the G20 members and that 54 per cent of global GDP is produced by the G7 members.


So if the like-minded countries, especially Japan and the EU, are united at this kind of meeting and take the lead in promoting the great cause of free and fair trade emphasizing the importance of a rule-based order, then I think we can make a difference.

Prime Minister Abe is looking forward to having Mr. Tusk and Mr. Juncker in Osaka.

Already at the last EU-Japan meeting in Brussels in April, Mr. Tusk and Mr. Juncker conveyed their moral support to Prime Minister Abe: "Shinzo, you can count on us“ at the forthcoming Osaka summit.

Euronews: Somehow in the shadow of the trade conflict is the issue of e-commerce and cybersecurity. What is your assessment, how important is the issue and what can we expect from Osaka going forward?

Kodama: Yes, indeed. Prime Minister Abe, back in January in Davos, unveiled his vision of what he called DFFT, Date Free Flow of Trust.


Now this is something, and maybe the Europeans agree, that is long overdue. We have to do something to navigate these explosive trade and economic activities globally.

Of course, the number one priority is that we have to ensure a freer and smoother trade of data.

But there is another side of the coin, I think. There are negative problems including privacy protection, data protection and property rights protection as well as cybersecurity.

Unfortunately, we don't have any kind of international agreement or regulatory framework to make sure that those problems may not occur.

So that's why Prime Minister Abe would like to kick-start a meaningful discussion at the highest political level.


Euronews: I want to talk about the issue of climate change which has become bigger and bigger since the last G20 meeting. We have seen, on a global level, a lot of protests by young people in Europe and elsewhere.

Diplomatically, the issue is a little in limbo since the United States walked away from the Paris Climate Accord.

Yet, many countries have promised to stick to the agreement, and even within the US there states that are opposed to the federal government pledging to respect climate goals.

How can we move forward here and what can the Osaka summit do to put this issue back on the right track? Is there something like hope that we can achieve something similar than Paris?

Kodama: Well, Stefan, you really asking me a difficult question to answer. This remains one of the most difficult international issues, of course, because of the US position.


However, two years ago when Chancellor Merkel hosted the G20 summit in Hamburg and also last year at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, we have been continuing to ensure that this 2015 Paris Accord will be implemented in the fullest manner.

All of us are have committed to this under a peer review. We have to make sure that our commitment will be implemented.

I see that in Europe there is a definite sense of crisis and urgency. But I must say that we also have to make sure that all of the 193 or 194 United Nations member states and their leaders share the same sense of crisis and urgency – but somehow this may still be lacking.

I am sure that Prime Minister Abe will make his plea to these G20 leaders, including Mr. Putin, Mr. Modi of India, Mr. Xi and Mr. Trump, of course.

We really have to expedite our efforts to reign in these negative climate change aspects.


Euronews: So these summits are a place where the big powers get together, but it's also a meeting where the actual leaders get together. And we have quite a colourful assembly of characters here – with Mr. Trump attending there is always room for surprise and other things...

Your Prime Minister Abe is on very good personal terms with Donald Trump. Does that give Japan a lead role in mastering the United States, representing the rest of like-minded countries?

Kodama: I would say, of course, that Prime Minister Abe will discharge his duty as president of the G20 summit in Osaka.

In in his capacity of the chair of G20 presidency he can do a lot behind the scenes or in the plenary sessions.

But then in order to do so, his closeness and his great chemistry with Mr. Trump will help him a lot to play that kind of role, although I don't know whether he will ask his colleagues to act as an interlocutor between them and Mr. Trump.


Euronews: Ambassador Kodama, thank you very much for this conversation.

Kosama: Thank you.

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