By Kylie MacLellan
LONDON (Reuters) – The British government said on Friday it wanted to hear from businesses and members of the public what their priorities were for a post-Brexit trade deal with Japan.
Japan is one of Britain’s biggest foreign investors, encouraged by successive British governments who have promised a business-friendly base from which to trade across Europe.
Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has raised concern that Japanese firms will shift operations elsewhere if tariff-free trade ends with the rest of the European bloc.
The government said its “call for input” to help it prepare for post-Brexit trade negotiations with Japan, would be open until Nov. 4, with anyone able to take part online.
“Businesses should be reassured that there is huge political will on both sides to begin negotiating a new free trade agreement with Japan as soon as possible,” British trade minister Liz Truss said in a statement during a visit to Tokyo.
“Launching our call for input today will allow us to begin these formal negotiations rapidly and will give people throughout the UK the opportunity to have their say on the new agreement.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking to renegotiate the Brexit deal his predecessor Theresa May reached with the EU but has vowed to take Britain out of the bloc at the end of October without an agreement if necessary.
Some of Japan’s leading companies in Britain have warned of the impact a disorderly exit from the EU could have on their businesses and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly urged Britain to avoid leaving without a deal.
Trade between Britain and Japan was worth 29.5 billion pounds ($36.7 billion) last year, the government said, with nearly 1,000 Japanese firms based in Britain employing more than 150,000 people.
Japanese carmakers Nissan, Toyota and Honda built roughly half of the just over 1.5 million cars produced in Britain last year.
Carmakers have warned that their factories, which rely on the constant delivery of parts to enter production cycles, would be severely damaged if Britain leaves the EU without a trade deal, forcing the need for customs checks at borders.
Truss will meet Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Isshu Sugawara, and Minister for Economic Revitalisation Yasutoshi Nishimura on Friday.
The two countries will also sign an exchange of letters to ensure UK certificates and inspections of technical regulations, currently covered by the EU-Japan Mutual Recognition Agreement, will continue to be recognized by Japan and vice versa.
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