On Jan. 31, the United Kingdom left the European Union. What does that mean for the U.K.’s relationship with Japan?
We can expect to see Britain playing an even more active role in the Indo-Pacific region, and Japan will continue to be a particularly important partner. Our two countries share many values: free markets, human rights, rule of law and a commitment to the rules-based international system, which faces increasing challenges. When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the U.K. in January 2019, we issued a joint statement setting out a number of areas for further cooperation.
Already we have seen a significant enhancement of U.K.-Japan security cooperation over the past three years. Last year saw British soldiers undertaking joint exercises on Japanese soil for the first time, and Self-Defense Forces troops exercised in the U.K. too. The historic relationship between the Royal Navy and the Maritime Self-Defense Force is flourishing to levels not seen since the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902, and six British naval ships have joined Japanese vessels for exercises, including enforcing United Nations sanctions on North Korea.
We work well together, building on experience developed as the closest U.S. allies in our respective regions. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will be in Tokyo this weekend to discuss further areas of cooperation with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi. This will build on existing work in support of the rules-based international system and take forward our cooperation in third countries in areas such as maritime security, infrastructure and counterterrorism.
In terms of business, Britain represents Japan’s second-largest investment location after the United States, and Japanese manufacturers in sectors such as autos and pharmaceuticals play a big role in our industrial economy. There is an important Japanese presence in the City of London’s global financial hub. And for Japanese trading companies, London is a valued base for trading with Africa and the Middle East, as well as Europe.
Our two countries are committed to delivering an ambitious new bilateral trade partnership as quickly as possible. This will be based on the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which came into force last year. In the meantime, the terms of the EPA and other Japan-EU agreements, in areas from nuclear cooperation to customs arrangements, will continue to apply to the U.K. until the end of the year, providing the certainty that business needs.
What does all this mean for the many Japanese investors in the U.K.?
The British government intends to negotiate a future trade agreement with the EU that will allow the complex supply chains of Japanese and other multinational companies to continue to function smoothly. That is in everyone’s interest. The U.K. government is also committed to an ambitious domestic program that will open new opportunities for Japanese companies, in sectors such as life sciences, technology, infrastructure and low-carbon industries.
Also, the many attractions of the U.K. economy — the English language, our business-friendly regulatory system, legal system, world-leading universities and R&D, skilled workforce and low corporate taxes — will remain a key draw for Japanese business. That is why over the last couple of years we have continued to see a flow of new investments from Japan, including NTT’s decision to set up a global headquarters in London, and Japanese venture capital companies investing in innovative U.K. startups.
And many Japanese business people tell me, from personal experience, that Britain is one of the easiest countries in the world to live in as a foreign citizen. That warm welcome will continue.
Britain is leaving the institution of the EU. We are not leaving Europe — that is a geographical reality. We will be a more independent voice in the way we engage with the world. But where it is in our sovereign interest, we will be cooperating with individual member states and with the EU in areas of common concern.
For example, in November this year in Glasgow, Britain and Italy will jointly host the U.N. climate change talks known as COP26. This will be an important meeting as the world seeks to respond to the challenges of climate change, whose effects are becoming ever more visible, from typhoons in Japan to bush fires in Australia.
As a major economy and important source of new technology, Japan also has a very important role to play on climate change. Already Japanese companies are playing an important role in the U.K.’s flourishing wind power sector. Many voices within Japan are calling for increased ambition on emissions reductions, including a shift away from supporting coal plants in third countries. Five years on from the Paris Agreement, we hope that all countries — including Japan — will raise their ambition for decarbonization.
The U.K. will continue to play a leading role in European security as a key member of NATO. Following our EU departure, our world-class military remains actively engaged in the collective defense of our neighbors and partners — Britain has always looked to the wider world beyond its immediate neighborhood.
As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, a leading member of the Commonwealth and other international organizations, and a major aid donor, we seek to be a force for good in the world, in accordance with the values that we share with Japan and other countries.
Paul Madden is the British ambassador to Japan.
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