European leaders have come up with a fix for the ailing Japanese economy: more beer.
More European beer, that is.
With the global economy slowing, countries around the world are looking for ways to ease trade barriers and spur growth. Japan's slide back into recession has added new urgency to Tokyo's efforts to boost exports.
But Japan's trading partners—including European Union officials hoping to strike a new trade deal next year—want Tokyo to pare back a thicket of obscure rules and product requirements that Europe says create trade barriers.
Take Japan's rules on beer. Many of Europe's finest brews can't be sold as beer in Japan because they don't meet Japan's strict requirements on malt content, according to an EU document obtained by Reuters. And coriander seeds—used in Belgian and German wheat beers to add a citrus flavor—are strictly verboten.
"For beer, the impact on trade is rather significant," the EU document said.
So, at the next round of talks on Dec. 8, EU negotiators plan to let their Japanese counterparts know that those beer rules have to go. Though Japan's beer market is the world's third-most profitable, European brewmeisters have been relegated to a few joint ventures that permit local production of premium beers, such as Heineken.
But tapping Japan's beer market is just a drop in the barrel of world trade, which has flattened recently after rebounding from the Great Recession in 2009.
Analysts cite multiple causes for the slowdown. The main reason: Outside the U.S., overall economic growth is slowing. China's once red-hot economy is cooling, due in part to a debt hangover following massive government spending to offset the global recession.
Europe remains stuck in a no-growth quagmire as it struggles to rid its banking system of bad debt. And despite a two-year government effort to jump-start growth, Japan's economy is headed in reverse.