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Japan's foreign minister to fly to UK in bid to conclude FTA talks

Motegi's trip is first by a Japanese minister since onset of COVID

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, right, and British counterpart Dominic Raab attend a joint press conference after talks in Tokyo on Feb. 8.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Tuesday he will travel to the United Kingdom this week to meet counterparts in a bid to wrap up talks over a free-trade agreement between the two countries.

The three-day visit from Wednesday will be the first overseas trip for a Japanese minister since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

"In the U.K., I plan to talk to [British Trade Minister Elizabeth] Truss on the rapid conclusion of a new Japan-U. K. economic partnership, which hopefully will be a final stage consultation," Motegi told reporters at a regular press briefing in Tokyo.

Truss told Nikkei in June that relations with Tokyo are "absolutely critical" for the U.K.

Britain's transition period for exit from the European Union ends this year, at which point the U.K. will be excluded from the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement that entered into force in 2019.

To continue smooth business relations between Japan and the U.K., "the rapid creation of a new trade and investment framework in place of the EU-Japan EPA is indispensable," Motegi said on Tuesday.

The total trade value between the countries in 2018 was just over 29 billion pounds ($38 billion) in 2018, according to the U.K. government, which forecasts that an FTA could boost trade by 15.2 billion pounds in the long run. Britain and Japan rank fifth and sixth, respectively, for inward foreign direct investment.

Around 20 chapters of the FTA have been agreed by the U.K. and Japan in the two-month period since negotiations began, according to Motegi. "The Brexit transition period expires at the end of the year so I wish to engage in intensive final stage consultations," he said.

Asked about coronavirus measures, Motegi said he would take a private charter plane and keep his entourage down to a minimum. No reporters have been confirmed as traveling with the minister, who said he and his team will undergo PCR testing and avoid using public transportation upon their return to Japan.

Motegi said he and U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab would also hold discussions on a "free and open" Indo-Pacific, security and defense cooperation, and coronavirus control measures.

Foreign governments and business groups have called on Japan to end its entry ban for foreign residents, including permanent residents and long-term visa holders.

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