Britain hailed its first major post-Brexit trade deal Friday after signing an agreement with Japan that it said shows it can stand alone on the global stage, as talks on a pact with the European Union remain bogged down.
London said the pact, which was agreed after just a few months of talks over the summer, would boost business between the two by £15.2 billion (US$19.5 billion) and proved others could be signed elsewhere.
The deal comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson pursues his “Global Britain” strategy that seeks potentially more advantageous trade deals than those that were negotiated while it was an EU member.
The UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement covers sectors including food, textiles and technology and largely replicates the existing EU-Japan arrangement, which will no longer apply to Britain at the end of this year.
It is due to take effect on January 1 – the end of a transition period in which London and Brussels are trying to thrash out the terms of their own new relationship.
British-Japanese trade was worth about £30 billion last year, while Britain’s imports and exports to the European Union, its biggest trading partner, totaled $670 billion.
After the signing ceremony in Tokyo, Britain’s International Trade Minister Liz Truss said: “It used to be said that an independent UK would not be able to strike independent trade deals, or they would take years to conclude. But today we prove the naysayers wrong.”
Truss also said the deal “paves the way” for Britain to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership between 11 countries including Canada, Mexico, Japan, Vietnam and Australia.
But joining is likely to be a complex manoeuvre that will take years.
Long-running post-Brexit talks with the EU resumed Thursday after Britain ended a week of threats to abandon them.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier arrived in London vowing to work around the clock to salvage a trade deal and avert potential economic chaos at the end of the year – although key sticking points still remain.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Friday highlighted the importance of a smooth end to the Brexit transition period, especially for Japanese businesses that see the UK as a “gateway to continental Europe.”
“It is of paramount importance that the supply chains between the UK and EU are maintained even after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Japan has high hopes that an agreement is reached soon,” he said.
Britain formally left the EU in January, following a seismic referendum in 2016 that saw voters opt to end five decades of European integration.