LONDON (REUTERS) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cautioned Britain on Thursday (May 5) that a vote to leave the European Union in a June 23 referendum would make Britain less attractive for Japanese investors.
"A vote to leave would make the UK less attractive as a destination for Japanese investment," Abe, who leads the world's third largest economy, said through a translator at a news conference with Prime Minister David Cameron.
Abe's intervention in Britain's referendum campaign comes less than two weeks since US President Barack Obama bluntly warned Britain that it would be "in the back of the queue" for a trade deal with the United States if it dropped out of the EU.
While Abe said that EU membership was a matter for the British people, he added that Japanese interests were also at stake in the referendum.
"Japan very clearly would prefer Britain to remain within the EU," Abe said. "Many Japanese companies set up their operations in the UK precisely because the UK is a gateway to the EU." Abe said about 1,000 Japanese companies operate in the UK employing 140,000 people.
Cameron said Britain benefited more from Japanese investment than from any other country apart from the United States. He said Japan had investments worth a total of 38 billion pounds (S$75 billion) in Britain.
"Japanese firms see Britain as the gateway to Europe," said Cameron, who called the referendum and is leading the campaign to keep Britain in the club it joined in 1973.
A British exit would unleash volatility in foreign currency, stock and bond markets, undermine post-World War Two European efforts toward integration and raise questions about the 21st Century fate of Britain's US$2.9 trillion economy.
"Britain's friends around the world, including Japan, will be watching your decision on June 23 with very close attention,"Abe said.