UK’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost probably afforded himself a smile this week as news came through of the rubber-stamping of the UK-Japan trade deal that will make almost all UK exports to Japan tariff free from next year, while levies on Japanese cars coming the other way will be abolished by 2026.The news was not unexpected and was, in fact, little more than confirmation of the broad agreement that the two countries reached last month. It was nevertheless hailed as a ‘ground-breaking, British-shaped deal’ by UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.
“From our automotive workers in Wales to our shoemakers in the North of England, this deal will help us build back better as we create new opportunities for people throughout the whole of the UK and help level up our country,” she had said back in September, adding that the UK-Japan trade deal was an important strategic step towards UK’s joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its positioning at the centre of a network of free trade agreements.
Critics suggest that the new UK-Japan trade deal may be less historic than Truss is making out. They argue that it is very similar to the existing EU-Japan deal, but with an extra chapter on digital trade and will only add 0.07%, a fraction of the trade that could be lost with the EU after Brexit.
Traditionally the UK’s biggest visible exports have been power generation equipment and vehicles, while the machinery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and scientific equipment and food and drink sectors have also flourished along with financial and insurance services, tourism and media.
In recent years there has also been a surge in demand for UK expertise associated with the decommissioning and decontamination of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant; and although sales of sports equipment had doubled over the past three and half years in the run up to the Rugby World Cup and in anticipation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by last September, the delay of the latter has left some UK firms in limbo.