Japan can deepen ties with the United Kingdom in many areas, including via European free trade, efforts to mitigate climate change and purchase of the European mainstay fighter jet, said David Howell, British minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Howell, visiting Japan last week for high-level exchanges, urged the government to adopt the Eurofighter Typhoon, which has been jointly developed by four European countries, including the U.K.

Japan is set to choose its next-generation fighter, code-named F-X, to initially replace its aging F-4s by the end of the year. The three main candidates are the Lockheed F-35, which is being jointly developed by nine countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., the Boeing F/A-18 and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

“Japan should equip itself with new defensive aircraft which would include the Eurofighter, of which Britain is a major contributor,” Howell said during an interview with The Japan Times.

“And the further development of this would be a joint matter between Japan and Britain . . . we would be working to build and develop and adapt this machinery together.”

Tokyo has very close military ties with Washington, and the U.S. has long dominated the fighter jet share in Japan.

But Europe has been keen to strengthen military ties with Japan. In January, the European Business Council in Japan launched a defense and security committee to promote defense-related business cooperation.

Howell expressed hope that Japan will ultimately choose the Eurofighter.

“Politicians (and) policymakers live with hopes. I think this would be good for Japan and good for Britain,” Howell said.

During his visit, Howell met with various government leaders and lawmakers, including Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara. One of the discussion topics was the possibility of Japan establishing an economic partnership agreement with the European Union.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is pursuing free-trade agreements with various countries and regions, including the EU. Most recently, Japan established an accord with India, making it the 12th country to sign an economic partnership agreement with Tokyo.

Japan has been eager not to fall too far behind South Korea, which has been actively seeking and signing FTAs, including one with the EU.

But a major obstacle for a Japan-EU EPA is the nontariff barrier, and the EU has urged Japan to take concrete steps to liberalize investment and deregulate government procurement. Official negotiations have yet to begin between the two sides.

Howell stressed that talks should begin to discuss how to overcome the barriers. According to the British government, the maximum removal of tariff and nontariff barriers could mean an increase in trade flow worth ¥4.9 trillion to the EU and ¥6.1 trillion to Japan.

“We are strongly in favor of this and we are using our influence in the EU to encourage other EU members to a positive position,” Howell said. “Obviously there will be problems, there always are . . . but if the will is there, we can make progress.”

As minister in charge of international energy policy, Howell visited Sanyo Electric Co.’s green-energy park, a next-generation environmentally friendly plant in Hyogo Prefecture, and also gave a speech on securing sustainable energy resources.

While overall relations between Japan and the U.K. are strong, there are issues where their positions differ, including child custody and whaling.

Western countries, including the United States, Canada, France and the U.K., have been pressing Japan to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which seeks a prompt return of children wrongfully taken by a parent from the child’s country of habitual residence.

Cases in which Japanese spouses — mothers in most cases — take their children to Japan after failed international marriages are on the rise, and so are the calls for Japan to sign the Hague treaty.

“There is a (Japan-U.K. child abduction) problem and we would frankly like to see Japan sign the Hague Convention,” Howell said. The government is studying whether to join the pact, but there is some concern children may be returned to an abusive environment that the mother fled because of domestic violence.

Whaling is another issue over which Japan often clashes with Western countries. Commercial whaling has been prohibited since 1986, but Japan has been conducting lethal “scientific research” instead.

Last month, the government had to halt its whaling hunt due to obstruction by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. While Howell urged Japan to stop killing whales, he also stressed that the issue must be dealt with through dialogue.

The whaling issue “must be dealt by discussion . . not by violent protests,” Howell said. “That’s the wrong way, but that’s the outcome if there isn’t a discussion, quite often, violence ensues and that’s what we want to avoid.”

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