On 23 October 2020, the Japan-UK Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (JUK Agreement) was signed in Tokyo by Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss. This is the first new international trade agreement the UK has concluded with a major economy since officially leaving the European Union (EU) in January 2020.
The UK-Japan negotiations were conducted with remarkable speed. There was enormous pressure from business leaders on both sides to have a deal in place before the end of the so-called “Withdrawal Agreement” period on 31 December 2020, i.e. the period following the UK’s formal departure from the EU, during which the UK has continued to be treated as an EU Member State (including continued coverage under existing EU trade agreements). The EU had concluded a comprehensive free trade agreement with Japan in 2018 which entered into force in February 2019 (the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (Japan-EU EPA)). Both the UK and Japan were keen to at least replicate its terms in a UK-Japan deal by late 2020, to ensure continuity. Time therefore was of the essence. On 9 June this year, Ms. Truss and Mr. Motegi met by videoconference and affirmed each other’s intention to engage in formal negotiations. On 7 August, they met again in person, this time in London, to confirm further intensification of the negotiations. Just over three months after launch of formal negotiations, on 11 September, the JUK Agreement was agreed in principle.