President March 2018

Sealing the deal

Growing trade and partnership

I was pleased to join a celebration organized by the European Business Council last month to mark the progress made towards concluding the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). According to the Asahi Shimbun, both sides are now keen to accelerate progress towards finalising the EPA, so that it can be signed, ratified and enter into force early next year—ideally before the UK leaves the EU.

This would be welcome for UK business, which has been a staunch supporter of the EPA throughout its negotiation, and particularly for Japan. An agreement in force by March 2019 might apply automatically during any post-Brexit transition period.

UK news in recent weeks has been dominated by increasingly partisan Brexit politics. In the midst of this, however, was the welcome announcement from Toyota Motor Corporation that it will build a new model in the UK. Vehicles will be assembled at the auto maker’s Derbyshire plant, with engines coming from its factory in Wales.

This provided some welcome perspective. Given the firm’s position at the centre of intricate cross-border supply chains, the president of Toyota Motor Europe, Johan van Zyl, restated that continued free and frictionless trade between the UK and Europe will be vital for Toyota’s future success.

At the same time, however, he emphasised that the commitment to UK production demonstrated the car giant’s “confidence in the skills and capabilities” of its UK workforce. This is a timely reminder that, as sacrifices and compromises are made in pursuit of agreement on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, there are sources of competitive advantage that will remain.

Increased traffic
Comments from Japanese businesses carry much weight due to the more than £40bn of investment that they have poured into the UK over the years. Investment is a two way street though, albeit the traffic is somewhat lighter from the UK to Japan.

Nonetheless, UK outbound investment and trade with Japan is significant and growing, and I am pleased to see examples not only in the familiar areas of luxury goods, vehicles, food and drink, but also in technology. Last November, we saw fledgling analytics firm SciBite Limited scoop the BCCJ 2017 annual British Business Award for innovation.

More recently, Scottish immunotherapy firm TC BioPharm opened its first overseas office in Japan, from which it plans to expand its cell therapy business throughout Asia. And then last month the UK’s Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult entered into a partnership with the Japanese Society for Regenerative Medicine, the world’s largest society for this area of medicine.

These firms are innovative pioneers, setting out on a journey of expansion in Japan. They are blessed with remarkable ideas, products and ambitious leaders, but they certainly do not have a monopoly on the keys to success. So for those myriad UK firms that are yet to unlock their potential to do business here, I urge you to visit the Export to Japan website. Better still, go to the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan website to book an event and access the link from there!