TOKYO • British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said he wants to begin talks with Japan within weeks to conclude a trade deal this year, after a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi, who asked Britain to drop European Union food import restrictions imposed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
"The aspiration will be to do it by the end of the year. We can certainly begin it earlier than spring," Mr Raab told Reuters in an interview.
"Japan is right up there in the list of priorities partly because of the size of the market, but also Japan is an absolute central country in the Indo-Pacific region," he added.
Mr Motegi, who said Japan also wanted a rapid conclusion of trade talks, met Mr Raab in Tokyo during the British minister's first overseas trip following Britain's departure from the EU, and as it negotiates its future relationship with Brussels and begins free trade talks with other major economies including the United States and Japan.
While in the EU, Britain was part of a comprehensive trade deal with Japan that last year began reducing tariffs across a raft of products, including Japanese cars.
Britain's hurry to tie up new trade agreements could be to Japan's advantage, as it seeks to secure better terms.
Mr Motegi said he had asked Mr Raab at their meeting to lift import restrictions on Japanese food and other products that were imposed by Brussels after the nuclear accident in Fukushima in 2011.
The EU eased those import regulations last year, but still insists on inspections and certificates of origin for some Japanese produce, including seafood.