It is important for Japan to continue and develop its relationship with Britain even after its departure from the European Union. A new trade agreement between the two countries is welcomed as a basis for such efforts.
The Japanese and British governments have reached a broad consensus on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement. They aim to sign the agreement by the end of this year and put it into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
Japan has concluded an EPA with the EU. Britain left the EU in January this year, but the term through the end of this year is regarded as the “transition period,” and the Japan-EU agreement has been applied to trade between Japan and Britain during this period.
When the transition period is over, this situation will come to an end. A sharp rise in tariffs could have a major negative impact on economic relations between Japan and Britain. To avoid that, the two countries need to conclude a new agreement by the end of the year.
It is commendable that the negotiations, which began in June, came to an early conclusion in three months. The Japan-Britain trade agreement is likely to become the first EPA that Britain has concluded with a major country since its exit from the EU.
Tariffs on passenger cars exported from Japan to Britain will be gradually lowered to zero by 2026, in the same manner as tariffs on passenger cars exported from Japan to the EU. Tariffs on some automobile parts, railway cars and parts, among other items, will be abolished immediately after the new Japan-Britain trade agreement comes into effect. This would mean that the elimination of tariffs on these products exported to Britain will be faster than for when they are exported to the EU.
Japanese companies that import parts from Japan and assemble them into finished products at their plants in Britain, including Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Hitachi Ltd., which produces railway cars, will also benefit from the new Japan-Britain trade agreement.
In the digital field, such as e-commerce transactions, both countries have agreed to restrict excessive data collection by their own governments. This does not exist in the Japan-EU trade agreement. The move is apparently aimed at keeping China in check as it is trying to bring data and information under state management.
What is worrisome is that negotiations between Britain and the EU over future relations, including free trade, have not been going smoothly.
There are about 1,000 Japanese companies operating in Britain, many of which consider that country their base in Europe. If the negotiations between Britain and the EU end in a rupture and tariffs are restored, that would deal a heavy blow such as through disruption to the distribution system. The merits of the new Japan-Britain trade agreement would also be seriously damaged.
Britain and the EU should speed up their agreement. The Japanese government also needs to continue to urge both sides to do so.
Britain has expressed its intention to apply for participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, for which Japan has taken the initiative. Amid the protectionism that is arising around the world, it is significant to expand the TPP. Japan is urged to support Britain and give a boost to expanding the TPP membership.
Britain has taken a stern attitude toward China’s unilateral actions, such as its maritime advances and the situation in Hong Kong, and has reversed its honeymoon relationship with China, which had been called a golden age. Japan and Britain, which share the values of freedom and democracy, must strengthen their cooperation in dealing with China.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 18, 2020.