Greetings from Brussels!
First, a quick word to say that our thoughts are with the people of London. Having just experienced what a rich and textured city London is, during our recent Data Protection Intensive, this week's attacks particularly hit home for us here at the IAPP. And, as we've just observed the one-year anniversary of the attacks here in Brussels, these are unquestionably sobering times, indeed.
On to the business of privacy and data protection, however. The world keeps turning.
There were some interesting developments in EU-Japan relations this week, in Germany at the international CeBIT trade fair, Europe’s premier event for digital business. This year, Japan was the partner country for the international event, which presented the opportunity for several high-level international trade meetings.
Andrus Ansip, VP of the European Commission; Věra Jourová, commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality; Hiroshige Seko, minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Japan; Naoki Ota, special advisor to the minister, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan; and Haruhi Kumazawa, commissioner of the Personal Information Protection Commission, Japan, met in Hanover on Monday to launch a dialogue on data protection and data flows, with the objective of advancing EU-Japan bilateral cooperation on the data economy.
In their discussions, they shared the view that digital data is an increasingly essential resource for economic growth, competitiveness, innovation, job creation, and societal progress. More specifically, they expressed a common desire to focus EU-Japan cooperation on four key pillars. Firstly, and most importantly for our crowd, they expressed a desire to promote high standards of data protection and the free flow of data.
Following the meeting with the Japanese delegation, Ansip and Jourová said in a joint statement: “Japan is a key trading partner for the European Union. We are now working to bridge our data protection laws and will work together towards an adequacy decision, allowing for the free flow of personal data to countries with essentially equivalent data protection rules to those in the EU. This work will complement the future EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement and allow us to build on our mutual trust and cooperation."
I discussed this positive development with IAPP European Advisory Board Member Tanguy Van Overstraeten, global head of data protection at Linklaters. Tanguy has been involved from the outset in the dialogue between Tokyo and Brussels in relation to data protection, which dates back to the mid-2000s, when Japan adopted its initial data protection legislation. He clearly welcomes the current progress: “There has been significant strengthening of the Japanese rules governing data protection over the years and the regulator has become more independent with more and more resources. ... This makes Japan a very credible target for adequacy recognition.”
He also applauded the recent efforts of the European Commission and the Japanese regulator in organizing a joint conference in Tokyo on the GDPR last week, on 13 March 2017.
Speaking with another IAPP member here in Brussels, Takeshige Sugimoto, senior associate with WilmerHale, he said: “This should certainly have a positive impact on Japan’s prospects of obtaining an adequacy decision from the European Commission.” Takeshige added that there was still much information exchange required to explain Japan's Personal Information Protection Act and its enforcement records to reassure the European Commission and European DPAs that Japan is one of the countries with essentially equivalent data protection rules.
Combine the CeBIT meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s visit to Brussels on Tuesday of this week, and it is clear the EU is working hard to deliver a new trade deal and strategic political partnership with Japan. Since their commencement in 2013, EU-Japan trade talks have stalled over sensitive trade positions such as agriculture, but also over data transfers. That said, it seems that both sides are hopeful for an agreement by the end of 2017. Following on from the Trump election, seen as an increasingly protectionist U.S. position from a global perspective, the EU and Japan are both keen to forge ahead, filling the void as the new vanguard in the area of global trade partnerships. In Brussels, senior European officials appear optimistic about reaching an agreement with Tokyo, which would be their biggest trade deal yet.
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