UK foreign secretary wants Japan trade talks to start soon

Following Brexit, Dominic Raab says he is looking for 'ambitious' trade deal with Japan to be completed before end-2020.

    British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (left), who is on a trip to Asia seeking free trade deals following the UK's exit from the EU, met Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi in Tokyo on February 8 [Issei Kato/Reuters]
    British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (left), who is on a trip to Asia seeking free trade deals following the UK's exit from the EU, met Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi in Tokyo on February 8 [Issei Kato/Reuters]

    British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he wants to begin talks with Japan within weeks in order to conclude a trade deal this year, after a meeting with Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi, who asked the United Kingdom 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," Raab told the Reuters news agency in an interview.

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    "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.

    Motegi, who said Japan also wanted a rapid conclusion of trade talks, met Raab in Tokyo during his first overseas trip following Britain's departure from the EU. The UK is negotiating its future relationship with Brussels and is beginning free trade talks with other major economies, including Japan and the United States.

    While in the EU, the UK was part of a comprehensive trade deal with Japan that last year began reducing tariffs across a range of products, including Japanese autos.

    Britain's hurry to tie up new trade agreements could be to Japan's advantage as it seeks to secure better terms.

    Motegi said he had asked Raab at their meeting to lift import restrictions on Japanese food and other products that were imposed by Brussels after the nuclear accident at 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.

    "Obviously anything that affects food, health and safety standards we would want to look at very carefully. We understand the Japanese concern about this and it will be science-led," Raab told Reuters when asked whether the UK would agree to Motegi's request.

    Raab also sought to ease Japanese concerns that the EU exit could result in trade friction with the rest of Europe. Japanese manufacturers such as Nissan Motor Co built plants in the UK because it offered a convenient gateway to the EU.

    There is, Raab predicted, enough political will in both the EU and UK to conclude a deal that will decide their future relationship before a transition period finishes at the end of the year.

    "We have too much in common, too much at stake for politics to trump the mutual economic self-interest. On both sides we've got a chance now to focus on the positives in the relationship," he said.

    Raab, who travelled to Japan from Australia, will stop in Singapore and Malaysia before returning to London.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency