Looking Eastwards: Closer Ties to Japan Await us at the End of the Road to Brexit

Mark wrote the below piece for today's City AM following his recent ministerial visit to Japan and Malaysia. You can also find the article on City AM's website by clicking here.

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As recently as six months ago, you may have expected a ministerial visit to Japan to comprise a series of tricky meetings with local businesspeople who, having invested so heavily in the UK, were worried about Brexit.

But during my trip earlier this month, I learned that recent progress has helped to assuage their fears. Given the scale of Japanese investment – from Swindon to Sunderland and back, mutual trade is currently worth more than £20bn a year – this is of vital importance to the UK.

Tangible advances in our Brexit negotiations have given a sense of certainty in Japan.

Well-received visits by the Prime Minister and foreign secretary late last year cemented the personal connections at a political level, multiplied many times over between our businesses. We have listened and carefully explained our position, as I did in Tokyo and Osaka a couple of weeks ago.

Japanese businesses now see prospects for a positive path forward. They are adopting a pragmatic approach to their contingency planning. As Masayoshi Matsumoto, chairman of the Kankeiren (Osaka’s equivalent of the CBI), told me: “the UK is now free to forge its own path”.

Newfound Japanese optimism on Brexit was the icing on the cake during my visit. I was delighted to keep up the progress on a relationship that is blossoming in every sense.

I met the Trade Ministry to discuss progress on a new economic partnership with Japan, based on the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. Japan is also the second biggest non-European source of FDI into the UK, and thanks largely to this great Asian nation, a vehicle comes off a production line in the UK every 20 seconds.

But, as I witnessed in meetings with seven government ministers in Tokyo, there is much more to our ties than trade alone.

I discussed the London 2012 games with the Olympics minister ahead of Tokyo’s own 2020 Olympiad.

The last Olympics held there in October 1964 gave Japan the bullet train. This one will cement ties between our two capital cities, as Tokyo draws on London’s experience to contribute to a safe and successful games, and a 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Our joint work on security, defence and intelligence is unprecedented. Three Royal Navy ships will visit Japan this year – a tangible demonstration of our commitment to regional security and a visible manifestation of global Britain.

The UK’s partnership with Japan also involves innovation between our leading universities, on medical science and robotics: the fourth industrial revolution is well underway among the leading brains of our respective nations.

En route to Tokyo, I spent 12 hours in Kuala Lumpur. I spoke to the Central Bank of Malaysia and British businesses about the many opportunities there for the UK, on green and Islamic finance co-operation, and higher education collaboration, to name just a few.

As we continue to move closer to leaving the EU, UK business has every reason to look forward with confidence to strengthening our ever-deepening ties with the east.