Britain secured its first big post-Brexit trade deal on Friday, an agreement with Japan which it hailed as “historic” as it struggles to agree on trade with its closest trading partners in the European Union.
Since formally leaving the EU in January, Britain has focused on negotiating new trade deals with countries around the world although experts say they are unlikely to replace exports lost to the EU if a deal cannot be reached with Brussels.
“This is a historic moment for the UK and Japan as our first major post-Brexit trade deal,” British trade minister Liz Truss said.
“The agreement we have negotiated - in record time and in challenging circumstances - goes far beyond the existing EU deal, as it secures new wins for British businesses in our great manufacturing, food and drink, and tech industries.”
The deal had been widely seen as one the easiest within reach for London, based largely on the EU-Japan agreement which covers Britain until the end of December, when a Brexit transition period ends.
Other negotiations, especially with the United States, have progressed more slowly.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the talks had been difficult “but we managed to reach an agreement in principle with extraordinary speed, in just three months”.
He said Japan was aiming for the deal - which would help Japanese manufacturers of train equipment and car components - to come into force on Jan. 1.
Japan has used Britain as a pro-business gateway into the rest of the EU but some Japanese politicians have expressed concerns that a so-called no-deal Brexit might affect this.
Britain said the deal meant 99% of its exports to Japan would be tariff-free, and that it could increase trade by 15.2 billion pounds ($19.4 billion) in the long run, compared with 2018.
Total trade between Britain and Japan was worth around 29.5 billion pounds in 2018, eclipsed by nearly 700 billion pounds of exports and imports between Britain and the EU.
Britain said digital and data provisions in the agreement would help British fintech firms operating in Japan.