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Japan Free Trade Agreement

Volume 805: debated on Thursday 17 September 2020


The following Statement was made on Monday 14 September in the House of Commons.

I am delighted to announce that last Friday we reached agreement in principle on a free trade deal with Japan. The UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement is a major moment in our national history. It shows that economic powerhouses, such as Japan, want ambitious deals with the United Kingdom, and it shows that the UK can succeed as an independent trading nation. It shows that we can strike deals that go further and faster than the EU-British-shaped deals that suit our economy.

This deal will drive economic growth and help level up our United Kingdom. On tech, it goes far beyond the EU-Japan deal, banning data localisation and providing for the free flow of data and net neutrality, benefiting our leading tech firms. In services, we have secured improved market access for financial services and better business mobility arrangements for professionals and their families. On food and drink, up to 70 of our brilliant British products can now be recognised in Japan, from Welsh lamb to Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese, English sparkling wine and Stornoway black pudding. Under the EU deal, that was limited to just seven. We have also secured tariff reductions on British goods from biscuits to pork, as well as continued access for malt and Stilton cheese.

In manufacturing, lower tariffs on parts and improved regulatory arrangements will benefit major employers such as Nissan and Hitachi in the north-east. The deal strengthens our ties with the world’s third-largest economy and deepens the bond between two like-minded island nations that believe in free and fair trade.

One of our greatest Prime Ministers, Mrs Thatcher, saw the value of co-operating with Japan in areas such as the automotive sector and electronics in the 1980s, which attracted the likes of Nissan and Toyota to our shores and delivered lasting benefits. Now, in 2020, we will unleash a new era of mutually beneficial economic co-operation with our great friend Japan, pushing new frontiers in areas such as tech and services trade. Japan, as one of the world’s major economies, is a vital partner for the UK and one of the most significant nations in the Pacific region. Securing this Japan deal is a key stepping stone towards joining the trans-Pacific partnership, which is one of the world’s largest free trade areas, covering 13% of the global economy and £110 billion-worth of trade. Accession is vital to our future interests. It will put us in a stronger position to reshape global rules alongside like-minded allies. It will hitch us to one of the fastest growing parts of the world. It will strengthen the global consensus for free trade at a time of global uncertainty and creeping protectionism.

Japan, alongside this agreement, has given its strong commitment for UK accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, and last week I co-chaired a chief negotiators’ meeting of all 11 TPP countries—the first time that a non-member state has been asked to do this—where we discussed the path to UK membership. As negotiations progress, we will bring forward the formal application process to Parliament, and ensure that it is scrutinised openly and transparently.

As I have promised, there will be a full scrutiny process for the Japan deal and all the other agreements that we strike. Prior to entering negotiations, we issued a scoping assessment and published our objectives. During the negotiations, we have engaged extensively with business and stakeholders, including sharing sensitive tariff and market access information with our new trade advisory groups. We have established a Trade and Agriculture Commission to put our farmers at the heart of trade policy and ensure that their interests are advanced. When it is complete, I will be issuing a copy of the final deal to the International Trade Committee for scrutiny. We will also produce an independently scrutinised impact assessment, covering social, labour, environmental and animal welfare aspects of the agreement so that parliamentarians are able to interrogate the deal and prepare a report that is debated in Parliament. Ultimately, Parliament will decide whether to ratify the deal through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process or to withhold its support.

I am strongly of the view that this is a great deal for Britain. It benefits all parts of our country while protecting our red lines on areas such as the NHS and food standards. The agreement that we lay before Parliament will be the first of many, because there is a huge appetite to do business with global Britain and a huge opportunity for every part of this country to benefit from these agreements. This deal is a sign and a signal that we are back as an independent trading nation, back as a major force in global trade and back as a country that stands up for free enterprise across the world. This is just the start for global Britain.”

My Lords, I congratulate the department and its officials on reaching this agreement in principle with Japan. It is a much-needed relief for all those UK companies that would have seen their trade with Japan reverted to WTO terms if the agreement had not been reached by the end of the transition period.

It is also a welcome benefit at a time of great economic uncertainty for the UK’s digital and tech sectors and for other key exporters which, we assume, will benefit from greater access, faster tariff reductions and stronger GI protections under this agreement than they enjoyed under the previous EU-Japan agreement. However, I hope the Minister will accept that in the absence of sight of the actual treaty text, and a full updated impact assessment, there is much about the UK-Japan agreement that we still do not know until these documents are published.

I welcome what is said in the Statement about the extensive scrutiny of the deal itself that will be offered to the International Trade Committee. I also note that there is a reference to an independently scrutinised impact assessment that the department will produce, so that

“parliamentarians are able to interrogate the deal and prepare a report that is debated in Parliament.”

I ask the Minister to confirm that this offer is also available to the International Agreements Committee of your Lordships’ House, and to confirm also that the timing of these releases of documentation will be such that the necessary scrutiny can be done well before the ratification processes of the CRaG Act are triggered—as of course will be the case in Japan, whose Parliament has to ratify the deal before it can be signed.

I have four other questions. The Statement says there will be a tariff reduction on British exports of food and agriculture, which is welcome. However, presumably this is contingent on sorting out the shared quotas we currently have under the existing EU FTA. For example, does this mean that exports will continue to be restricted unless and until other EU countries fail to use them?

The Statement talks up a new area of co-operation with Japan in the automotive and electronic sectors and suggests there will be considerable growth in new areas such as aeronautics. But, as we discussed in an Oral Question earlier this week, is this not likely to be heavily contingent on final decisions on accumulation and rules of origin after the transition period ends? Can the Minister update us on progress in this area?

I ask the Minister what ISDS clauses are contained in the final agreement. If there are any, how can the Minister justify such secretive and unwelcome provisions when there are ample opportunities for agreed parties to use the normal legal processes operating in both our countries?

Finally, can we get behind the headline comparisons that were fed to the press about the benefits this agreement will produce for the UK? Would the Minister agree with me that the correct comparison is what would have happened if we had simply rolled over the existing EU-Japan deal? To put it another way, can the Minister say what we will be able to do after this FTA is ratified that we cannot do now under the existing EU-Japan FTA—and can he quantify that?

As welcome and necessary as this deal with Japan is, it is still nothing like as important, in terms of our global trade, as reaching a deal to maintain free trade with the European Union. Our trade with Japan is worth 2.2% of our current global trade, which does not come anywhere near the 47% that we have with Europe. That is why commentary on this deal from Japan suggests that the deal that will determine the future of the investment and jobs that Japanese companies bring to UK communities is not the FTA we have just signed, but the one we hope to sign shortly with Europe.

My Lords, because these Benches want the UK to prosper, we welcome the agreement. However, rather like industry groups, we do so not by hailing it but by sighing a collective sigh of relief that we have secured simple continuity of the benefits we secured as part of the EU. It has come to this—simply securing the trading terms that we had as a member of the EU now that we are out of it was described as “heroic” by a Conservative MP in the Commons on Monday.

It is customary to thank the Government for advance notice of a Statement’s accompanying published documents. However, as referred to, in this case it would have been good to have notice of the text of the agreement—which has yet to be signed—so that we could offer proper scrutiny. In Japan, both Houses of the Diet will need to approve the Cabinet’s decision to endorse the treaty. That is not afforded to our Parliament; we will not have an opportunity to do so. British parliamentarians did with the EU agreement. However, as I said last week on the Trade Bill, the Government seek continuity on most things but not on parliamentary accountability. Can the Government Whips indicate that we will have a substantive debate on this agreement in this House before the Government indicate that they seek ratification?

The Minister gave specific details of the agreement when answering questions on Monday, but we have had no sight of the agreement in order to consider the context and scale of what the Minister said. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I welcome what Liz Truss said on Monday in the House of Commons, with regard to a copy being given to the International Trade Committee. I also would like to know whether that will be afforded to our committee, the International Agreements Committee, and when this will be done. Will the text also be made available, as is common in other Parliaments, to Front-Bench spokespeople on a private briefing basis at the same time as it is sent to the committees? What will be the timeframe between it being sent to the committees and a debate in this House?

We have to reserve judgment on the wider benefits the Government claim for the agreement until we have seen them. Over recent months, we have seen the enormous capacity of the Government to oversell and then underdeliver. For example, there was massive fanfare over securing tariff-rate quotas for British agricultural products in this agreement, but then reports suggest that we have actually secured access to any non-utilised quota for EU goods.

With even greater heralding activity, the press release announced:

“New protection for more iconic UK goods … from just seven … to potentially over 70 under our new agreement”.

Understandably, MPs in the Commons lined up to welcome this, but can the Minister confirm that the agreement has no new protections creating GIs, as Japan is under no obligation to expand further its recognition in the future to beyond what we have in the EU deal? Rather, it will simply be able to consider further requests from the EU to a limit of 70.

If it transpires that this spin—which has also described the agreement as “gold standard”—is actually just a commitment to talk about further potential agreements, such as geographical indicators, the Government are building up a huge amount of expectation for very limited benefit. Given the fact that Japanese company Hitachi’s agreement for nuclear power on Anglesey is likely to have a bigger negative economic impact on the United Kingdom than any benefits of this trade agreement, context is all.

On state aid, the Minister referred to a Question I asked on Monday, and he said clearly that this a perpetuation of EU rules which we will be bound by. Can the Minister be clear and tell the House whether it will require domestic state aid legislation to implement this and, if so, will it be a continuation of the EU regime? When will that be brought forward? On tariffs, what will the overall average Japanese import tariff on UK goods be under this agreement, compared to what we have at the moment?

Finally, the Government said that the benefits are likely to yield £15 billion to the UK economy, but they have not given a timeframe. I looked at the Government’s scoping paper, and it said that that source simply stated over “the long term”. The source for that, in the footnote, was internal DIT analysis from 2018. Will the Government publish that? What is the timeframe for that £15 billion—with no caveat—the Government have announced, overselling and underdelivering again? What is the figure? The Government did not quote from that scoping exercise that that figure does not take into consideration the economic impacts of Covid-19, so what is the real likely benefit?

If we are to see the benefits from this agreement, which we wish to, the Government have to be open and transparent. So far, that transparency is lacking. I hope that the Government will be far more open in the coming weeks.

I thank both noble Lords from the Front Benches opposite for welcoming the agreement. I share their view that this is a good agreement for the United Kingdom.

I will do all I can to answer the questions put to me. First, I can confirm that the IAC—our committee which scrutinises agreements—will be treated on all fours with the ITC, and anything that goes to the ITC will also go to the IAC. The next stage, which is going on at the moment, is that the agreement is being “legally scrubbed”, or put into a good state. When that is done, which will probably be sometime in early October, that agreement in the first instance will be presented in its entirety to the two committees. It will be presented to them in good time for them to report on the agreement at the same time as the whole agreement is laid before your Lordships’ House.

At the same time as we present the agreement, we will present an impact assessment, which will set out the impact of this agreement in various environmental and other matters and, critically, we will publish another assessment which shows where this agreement differs from the previous EU agreement. Therefore, if noble Lords do not mind waiting, when that final package appears in front of the committees, and through the committees to themselves, it will answer the questions that have been asked.

I repeat that we have no desire at all not to be transparent and open with your Lordships’ House. It will be of great benefit to us if these agreements are well understood. They are important in themselves but they will be even more important once our businesses throughout the land understand them and are able to operationalise them to their own benefit.

On some of the specific questions that were raised, I can confirm that there is no ISDS clause in this agreement, so that should not be a matter of concern. Rules of origin are the same as in the previous EU-Japan agreement but with three improvements: our coats, knitwear and biscuits industries have extended rules of origin, so will be able to bring in ingredients from a wider range of places than they could under the previous agreement. Therefore, noble Lords who enjoy their shortbread can be assured that it will now be sold on even better terms into Japan.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, mentioned quotas, which are a very small part of this. Out of £150 million of agricultural trade between the UK and Japan, only £1 million is covered by quotas. As mentioned, our producers will be able to take advantage of the unused quotas in that, and for products such as Stilton cheese, that will certainly be of benefit to its producers.

The state aid references in the agreement are de minimis and the kind of state aid arrangements which we regularly find in agreements of this sort. This in no way creates a new state aid regime for the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, mentioned GIs. Japan has agreed that we can put up to 70 further GIs in front of them and the tone of that discussion was very warm. Those GIs will go through a challenge process, but my right honourable friend the Trade Secretary and I are very confident that they, or at least the vast bulk of them, will be approved by the Japanese.

If noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite wish to see any further points of detail covered, I will be happy to deal with them separately. However, if noble Lords do not mind waiting for the next few weeks, until these agreements are out in the open, things will be very clear then, and I hope that will lead to people understanding and further welcoming a very important agreement.

We now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.

I enthusiastically congratulate my noble friend the Minister and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on a successful conclusion to the UK-Japan trade deal. What could be more fitting than the first post-Brexit trade deal being between our two great enterprising and trading global and island nations? Who would be more than delighted than the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who instructed me 30 years ago as an intimidated junior Minister to “Forget Brussels—Japan should be our friend, ally and close trading partner for the future”? However, does my noble friend agree that it is now for British industry and commerce to take full advantage of this historic deal, showing the world what the best of British can deliver? How will this historic agreement progress the UK’s accession to the CPTPP?

I thank my noble friend for her generous comments. I know that she is a great expert on Japan so it is particularly welcome that those comments came from her. She is of course right that we see this agreement as a gateway to the trans-Pacific partnership. Some 90% of global growth comes from beyond the EU, so both Japan and the wider Pacific region are vital for Britain’s future economy. We have no doubt that the finalisation of this Japan agreement will greatly help in that process, not least because Japan will hold the chair of the trans-Pacific partnership countries next year.

My Lords, the signing of the UK-Japan trade deal is a breakthrough moment and is welcomed by business across the country. May I build on what the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, just said? How will the Government use this trade deal as a launch pad to secure accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership? Given that this deal supposedly has benefits beyond the EU-Japan trade deal, could the Minister tell us how the Government will ensure that British companies, who may not have utilised EU FTAs as well as they could have, capitalise on this deal and ensure that the £15 billion of additional trade is realised?

I thank the noble Lord for his comments. To answer the second part of his question, there is an obligation on the Department for International Trade to ensure that the benefits of these agreements—in due course, when they are signed and ratified—are well known throughout the UK. For example, the Japan agreement has huge benefits to our SMEs, which are the backbone of our economy. To put it in the nicest way, what would be the point of negotiating these agreements if we did not bring these benefits home to businesses throughout the United Kingdom? A lot is going on with the trans-Pacific partnership accession. Since July 2018, we have engaged with all 11 member countries and recently had a meeting between the Secretary of State and her counterpart in Mexico, attended by all heads of missions of the CPTPP. The tone of the meeting was warm. We are very much encouraged by the members of the CPTPP to pursue our contact with them, and I have no doubt that that contact will in due course lead to an accession request being made to the trans-Pacific partnership.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the trade deal with Japan will boost our GDP by only 0.07%? Will he tell the House how that compares with the economic cost of losing our free trade with the European Union, given that we still seem far from achieving a comprehensive trade agreement with it?

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. Of course, this has a smaller economic benefit than our arrangements with the EU, but I think it is right to gain economic benefit wherever we can. It would seem churlish not to want to pursue a Japan free trade agreement purely because it was smaller than a European free trade agreement. The full benefits of this agreement will be available to the House once the agreement and our impact assessment are published, and I ask the noble Baroness to wait until that happens and, perhaps, consider it then.

My Lords, we have been told that in this deal there will be new protections for the UK creative industries and that these protections have gone beyond the EU provisions that tackle online infringement of IP rights such as film and music piracy. The two major asks from the creative industries were that this deal with Japan introduced public performance rights, significantly benefiting the music industry, and a provision such as the one we already have in the UK that allows blocking of websites that provide access to illicit content. Have those two primary objectives been achieved and, if they were not, what confidence can the creative industries have that similar asks will be delivered in future negotiations?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I can indeed confirm that there are a number of advantages for the creative industries coming out of this enhanced continuity agreement, and the details of them will become apparent when the agreement and assessment are published in due course.

My Lords, in welcoming this trade deal, I am particularly pleased that it removes trade barriers, delivering huge gains for the 8,000 UK SMEs exporting goods and services to Japan. I ask two questions. Overall, does the deal give better UK access than under the EU trade deal that was put into force in February last year? Following the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, given Her Majesty’s Government's assessment that the trade deal could add 0.07% to UK GDP, what assessment has the department made of the effect of not agreeing a trade deal with the European Union?

Again, I thank the noble Lord for his comments. There is a specific SME chapter in this agreement. It goes further than the previous EU chapter and the whole intent of that chapter is to make it easier for our SMEs to trade with Japan. Further details will be available on that in due course. I have not seen any assessment in relation to the EU of the sort that he mentioned, and I dare say that it has not been thought necessary because of the overwhelming view in this country that we should leave the European Union, which indeed we did on 1 January this year.

My Lords, I declare my interests as stated in the register. I am delighted that we have agreed a free trade agreement with Japan and strongly welcome the Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend. As the Secretary of State said, the deal will

“unleash a new era of mutually beneficial economic co-operation with our great friend Japan”.

Against this background, does the Minister agree that it is a great disappointment that Hitachi decided yesterday to change the status of the Horizon nuclear power station project at Wylfa and Oldbury from suspended to cancelled? It is of some comfort that Hitachi has said that it will keep the lines of communication open with government and other key stakeholders regarding future options at both our sites. Can my noble friend confirm that the Government have sent an urgent message to the Government of Japan and Hitachi that they want strongly to work together to find a way of reviving this important project in the interests of all stakeholders?

I thank my noble friend for his comments about the agreement and I am well aware of his great expertise in Japan. As the Minister for Investment, of course it is always a matter of great regret for me if a major company decides not to pursue an investment opportunity in the United Kingdom. My noble friend will realise that nuclear has a huge number of manifestations; these are very large decisions that companies will take. We have maintained contact with Hitachi throughout the process. I believe that this was a decision by the Hitachi board. I have no information in what circumstances it might choose to revisit that decision, but I will say that I have huge admiration for Hitachi. I have spoken to Hitachi at the most senior levels on a number of occasions, and we would always welcome any investment from Hitachi into the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I declare my interests as noted in the register, but in particular my membership of the UK board of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group, set up by Prime Minister Thatcher when the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, was a Minister. The board met in its annual conference with Japanese colleagues last weekend and warmly welcomed the announcement of the trade deal: in particular the steps towards UK membership of the comprehensive trans-Pacific partnership.

It would also be appropriate today for us to welcome and congratulate Prime Minister Suga on his election yesterday as Prime Minister of Japan. He has a particularly strong commitment to UK-Japan relations and an understanding of the importance of the UK and Japan in maintaining an international rules-based system and that free and fair trade are at the heart of that. Can the Minister confirm that, when we see the details of this agreement and its implementation over the coming months, there will be nothing that will contradict our commitment to those international agreements on climate change and the sustainable development goals that see the UK and Japan committed to not only free trade but fair trade that helps preserve our planet and develop the global economy?

The noble Lord is yet another example of the vast expertise that we have in this House on these matters and, because of his special insights into Japan, I welcome his commendation of this agreement. He is right to say that Japan and the UK have very similar attitudes to these matters: both of us look to a rules-based economy in world trade. I can confirm that the matters to which he referred have been rolled over from the EU agreement. The EU agreement had very strong provisions in relation to sustainability, climate and other matters, and he will see once the agreement is made available to the House that we have preserved the impact of those measures. I join the noble Lord’s congratulations of the new Japanese Prime Minister: I wish him a long and successful period in post.

My Lords, while naturally congratulating the Government on the progress with the Japan FTA, is it recognised that it is not in the interests of business to spend years negotiating free trade agreements for them to fail because one stakeholder group or another does not agree with them? Specifically, is a free trade agreement model for beyond the EU now being adopted by the UK in trade negotiations—with people speaking well of the Singaporean approach, for example? Can the Government demonstrate that they are being receptive to the principle of a UK-wide trade alliance that affords better scrutiny and transparency, building back better, and a trade model that ensures trade works for everyone, given some concern of limited evidence of inclusion?

I thank the noble Viscount for his question. Before I answer it, I first apologise to him for misunderstanding an Oral Question that he asked me the other day. I have written to him correcting my misunderstanding.

The noble Viscount is completely right that one has to build a constituency for these agreements if they are to have the impact that we all desire. For that reason, we conducted a very extensive call for input between September and November last year on it, and published it along with our response in negotiation objectives. We held round tables across the country, and we have also set up various trade advisory groups with expertise drawn from a wide cross-section of the UK to advise us on the negotiations as they persist. The noble Viscount will understand that the lessons and advancements that you gain in one free trade agreement—subject, of course, to the trammels of negotiation—often get rolled forward into future free trade agreements. We believe that we are on the cutting edge of free trade agreements, and we are looking forward to those cutting edges appearing in the new free trade agreements that we intend to negotiate and ratify going forward.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and join in the congratulations on the achievement of this agreement in principle, and for which my noble friend the Minister deserves a certain amount of personal credit. I join, too, in the sending of good wishes to the new Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Yoshihide Suga. Could this deal herald an era of increased collaboration with Japan, not just on trade and business but across the whole range of security and defence co-ordination, such as the extension of the Five Eyes alliance in south-east Asia, and here at home on major infrastructure projects in railways, nuclear and other areas—replacing perhaps over-ubiquitous Chinese involvement with a more friendly Japanese presence? I join my noble friend Lord Trenchard in urging a reversal of the Hitachi withdrawal from our nuclear programme, which is a pity. Could steps be taken urgently to reverse that and maintain the programme?

Again, I thank my noble friend for his comments. He makes a very good point. I have always seen the signing of these agreements as having psychological and practical impacts that go far wider than the agreements themselves. The deep interaction that goes on in the negotiations gives rise to much better understanding between Governments. It awakens interest in a whole range of society in the countries being negotiated with. As he does, I see this as a harbinger of even closer relationships with Japan in a whole number of areas, including the important defence and security areas to which he refers.

My Lords, I was interested to read in the Minister’s recent letter regarding this deal that there would be new protection for the more iconic UK goods such as Cornish pasties. How large does he judge the Japanese appetite for Cornish pasties to be? More importantly, what has the UK given to the Japanese that goes beyond what the EU deal gives? We have heard only of the potential— I stress, potential—upside of this deal. I should like to know what benefits go the other way.

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. In relation to Cornish pasties, I have unwittingly watched television programmes from time to time that show the extraordinary variety of food that they eat in Japan. I am sure that against that background the Cornish pasty would be more than welcomed by Japanese consumers. In terms of the impact of this agreement, compared with the EU agreement, I ask her to await the publication of the agreement and of the report that we will produce setting out the differences in detail.

My Lords, the agreement is welcome but, a few days ago, British and European motor manufacturers warned of £100 billion in losses over the next five years if there is no trade deal with the EU. That is on top of an estimated €100 billion cost from the Covid pandemic. Does the Minister understand the implications for our motor industry and for Japanese companies if there is no deal with the EU, and the consequent danger to British jobs that inevitably would follow?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. We are all aware of the vast amount of trade that we have with the European Union and the impact of that not just on our car industry but on other industries. That is why I am sure that he will join me in hoping that those negotiations reach a sensible conclusion. We believe that we have put pragmatic proposals to the EU, and we are hoping that it will shortly see that and agree an agreement with us.

My Lords, I warmly welcome this agreement. My question is simple. My noble friend stated that we will continue to be bound by the state aid arrangements that currently apply to the EU-Japan agreement. Why will we not agree to be bound by those same rules in our future relationship with the EU? What is so different between that relationship and our relationship with Japan?

I thank my noble friend for her question. Perhaps I may repeat that the state aid provisions found in this free trade agreement are de minimis and in no way compare with what one might call the state aid environment that is the matter under discussion between the UK and the EU. Full details of this will be seen when the agreement is finally published.

Sitting suspended.