TOKYO, Sept. 1 ─ UK Prime Minister Theresa May is eager for a swift, bilateral trade agreement with Japan after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to keep options open until the shape of the UK-EU deal becomes clear.
Abe met May in Tokyo on Aug. 31 when she made her first official visit to Japan to discuss trade and investment as well as security cooperation.
During the meeting, Abe asked May to keep Tokyo fully informed about the ongoing Brexit negotiations in order to minimize the impact on Japanese companies.
Japanese companies, including Toyota, Nissan and Honda, together employ tens of thousands of workers in the UK.
May told a press conference after the meeting: “We have agreed to establish a new economic partnership between the UK and Japan soon after the Britain’s exit.”
For Japan, while the government can prepare the groundwork for a post-Brexit trade deal, it can’t make commitments until the details of Britain’s future access to the EU single market are known, officials say.
“A free trade agreement with the EU is our top priority,” said a Japanese official from the foreign ministry.
In July, Japan and the EU secured their trade agreement in principle. But successful conclusion by the end of this year seems increasingly doubtful as the EU insists it will not agree to include a controversial investment protection provision in the accord.
The UK has driven the agriculture sector toward being larger and more competitive. Its big exports to Japan are Scotch whisky and barley, an essential ingredient of whisky.