Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi could visit Britain as early as next month for negotiations on a trade deal that both countries want to finalize this year, government sources said Friday.
Motegi is expected to meet Liz Truss, the British trade secretary, to put the final touches to the deal. The two kicked off negotiations in June, with Tokyo looking to scrap auto tariffs as soon as possible, while London wants benefits for its financial services and textile industries.
Any deal would build on the existing Japan-EU free trade agreement that Britain will leave when the transition period for its exit from the European Union concludes at the end of the year.
"I don't think we could have held those difficult negotiations over the phone," Motegi said at a news conference on Friday, suggesting he and Truss would need to meet in person.
Motegi said there was no set schedule for how talks would proceed.
But he said the timeline would likely be similar to the Japan-U.S. trade deal, in which he and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer reached broad agreement in late August of last year, securing time for both countries to wrap up domestic procedures for it to come into force from Jan. 1.
Britain this month removed a requirement for travelers from Japan to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival, clearing the way for Motegi to make the trip. If means he could be the first member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet to travel overseas since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Japan has an entry ban on foreigners — including those who normally reside in Japan — arriving from more than 100 countries, including Britain.
Japanese nationals who have recently been to these areas are required to take a polymerase chain reaction tests and self-quarantine for 14 days, but Motegi could be exempt as he is a high-ranking government official.
Trade between the countries was worth about $38 billion in 2019, with Japan being Britain's 11th-largest export market and Britain the 12th biggest market for Japan.