Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent visit to Tokyo was a timely reminder that the deep and enduring business ties between Japan and the UK are threads in the fabric of a much broader relationship.
Woven from shared values, collaboration and a common commitment to security, global free trade and the rules-based international system, the UK–Japan relationship provides a firm foundation for enhanced future cooperation. Mrs May’s audience with the emperor and privileged access to Japan’s National Security Council are tangible evidence that this 400-year relationship remains strong.
It is of course vital to secure the interests of Japanese investors in the UK throughout the process of leaving the European Union (EU). Post-Brexit, however, the UK must enhance its bilateral relationships with countries around the globe. Among these relationships, there are few more important to the UK than its ties with Japan. In 2016, UK exports to Japan increased by almost 13% year-on-year to £11.6bn, and it is hoped that this growth will accelerate as efforts to reduce trade barriers bear fruit.
In this respect, the UK’s primary goal is to finalise and ratify the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). As an advocate of free trade and with a long history of welcoming inward investment, the UK has been one of the most vocal supporters of the EPA, and will seek to use it as a template for a future bilateral free-trade agreement with Japan. It is hoped that this will be an ambitious agreement, eliminating tariffs and further harmonising standards and regulations to the benefit of firms in both countries.
Clearly the challenges of concluding such an agreement should not be underestimated, but neither should the opportunities stemming from the UK’s future ability to unilaterally adopt a more flexible negotiating position.
At the corporate level, an increasing number of UK and Japanese firms are achieving success through innovation born of enhanced partnership and collaboration. On that note, the UK–Japan Business Forum, which was part of the recent ministerial visit, showcased a number of successful examples.
Responding to questions, forum delegates suggested that more could be achieved by increasing the number of connections between partners and the amount of time dedicated to face-to-face interaction, as well as by boldly sharing success stories. To this last point, the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) remains fully committed to telegraphing good news from UK–Japan collaboration.
Hello and goodbye
In closing, I am delighted to report the return of Lori Henderson MBE to the BCCJ after maternity leave—she has now resumed her role as Executive Director. After handing back the reins, Emma Hickinbotham, who led the chamber so ably during Lori’s absence, will be leaving to take up an exciting appointment as head of media, communications and marketing at the British Embassy Tokyo.
On behalf of all BCCJ members, I extend our very best wishes to Emma in her new role, and the warmest possible welcome to Lori on her return. Participants in the UK–Japan business relationship are indeed fortunate to have such dynamic and charismatic leaders championing their interests.