The European Union (EU) may soon decide whether Japan will have “adequate” status for transfers of personal data from the EU. Reuters reported on December 15, 2017 that the European Union is aiming to finalize a data transfer agreement with Japan by early 2018.

Set to be implemented in May 2018, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will require that EU citizens’ personal data be transferred to only countries with an adequate data protection status, forbidding companies from storing EU citizens’ personal data in foreign countries deemed to have an “inadequate” level of privacy protection.

Under the EU’s privacy framework, the European Commission has the power to determine, based on Article 25(6) of Directive 94/46/EC, whether a foreign country has an “adequate” level of data protection under that country’s domestic laws or international commitments. If a foreign country is deemed adequate, personal data can flow from the 28 EU countries (and three EEA member countries of Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland) to the foreign country without further safeguards.

The commission has so far deemed only 12 countries – Andorra, Argentina, Canada, Switzerland, Faeroe Islands, Guernsey, Israel, Isle of Man, Jersey, New Zealand, the United States (under the EU-US Privacy Shield), and Uruguay – as providing adequate protection. The EU does not include the United States among its adequate protection countries. But Decision 2016/1250 on the adequacy of protection of the EU-US Privacy shield, commonly known as the EU-US Privacy Shield, was designed as a program whereby participating US companies or companies doing business in the US are deemed to have adequate protection.

An adequacy determination for Japan would be monumental for Japanese companies and companies doing business in Japan, with EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova recently stating that”[a]n adequacy decision would be great news for business as it would allow for the transfer of personal data from the EU to Japan without the need for extra authorisations.”