Britain signs trade deal with Japan as Brexit talks hot up

It largely preserves terms under which London traded with Tokyo as EU member

In a ceremony in Tokyo, UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi signed the pact.
In a ceremony in Tokyo, UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi signed the pact.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Britain signed a trade deal with Japan yesterday, its first with a major economy since Brexit, as the clock runs down on British efforts to reach an agreement with the European Union by the end of the year.

In a ceremony in Tokyo, Britain's International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi put their names to the pact, which was reached in principle last month, about three months after formal negotiations began.

The deal largely preserves the terms under which Britain traded with Tokyo as a member of the EU, according to Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

It is expected to boost Britain's gross domestic product by 0.07 per cent compared with 2018 levels over the next 15 years, the British government has said.

"It used to be said that an independent UK would not be able to strike major trade deals, or they would take years to conclude," Ms Truss told reporters after the signing. "But today, we proved the naysayers wrong with this groundbreaking, British-shaped deal that was agreed in record time."

The agreement will also help open the way for Britain to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Ms Truss added.

Mr Motegi reiterated that Japan will continue to support Britain's bid to join the TPP, which is a trade agreement involving 11 countries across the region, including Australia, Vietnam and Canada.

Yesterday's pact improves access to Britain's market for Japanese train cars and some auto parts, and adds rules on digital trade and financial services. Britain's Department for International Trade said it provides bespoke benefits that go beyond the EU deal, including in areas such as digital and data, financial services, food and drink, and creative industries.

"Financial services firms looking to operate in Japan will find it easier to get a licence," International Trade Minister Greg Hands told Bloomberg TV yesterday.

"It's good news for fintech firms because we've removed unnecessary data localisation rules," he said, citing money transfer companies TransferWise and Revolut as specific beneficiaries.

While the economic impact is modest - Britain is Japan's 18th-largest trade partner - the accord with the world's third-largest economy is a bright spot for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who promised that Brexit would be an opportunity for Britain to strike better deals as an independent country.

The signing came as Mr Johnson's government restarted negotiations with the EU on Thursday, in a bid to avoid tariffs and quotas being reimposed when Britain departs from the single market and Customs union on Dec 31.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2020, with the headline 'Britain signs trade deal with Japan as Brexit talks hot up'. Print Edition | Subscribe