LONDON -- The U.K. is exploring entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership as well as a free-trade agreement with Japan after it leaves the European Union at the end of March, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Nikkei on Wednesday.
"We would always seek a trading relationship with Japan whether through a bilateral deal or through TPP that has the lowest possible barriers to trade," Hunt said in an interview, a day before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives in London Thursday to meet with British counterpart Theresa May.
The economic partnership agreement between Japan and the EU will take effect in February, allowing the U.K. to trade under that framework as long as it remains in the bloc. But Britain will fall outside the treaty's jurisdiction should a no-deal Brexit materialize, making a new trade pact necessary to maintain a smooth trading relationship with Japan.
"Japanese companies are some of our most important investors in the U.K.," said Hunt. "We have one of the most competitive manufacturing sectors in Europe. But a lot of that is thanks to Japanese support and help" from investments in the 1980s.
He explained that London is open to both bilateral and multilateral deals like the 11-nation TPP, which recently went into force, to ensure that Japanese companies can stably enter the British market.
But the Brexit deal negotiated by May has drawn strong criticism in the U.K. There are growing fears that Britain will leave the EU without a deal, throwing its economy and citizens' lives into chaos.
"If we have a no-deal exit, that will cause disruption, which is not good for business," Hunt said. "But if we have a second referendum and reverse the Brexit results, that will be very bad for social stability. So the best way forward is through the deal with the prime minister's negotiators."
Hunt also expressed optimism that those opposed to May's deal are coming around. "I think gradually members of parliament are beginning to realize the alternatives are bad," he said. "And that's why in the end I think we will succeed in getting this deal accepted."
The foreign secretary also revealed plans to increase the staff in Britain's embassies abroad.
"We are doing this as a signal to the world that after Brexit, Britain is not retreating from the world," Hunt said. "We are going out into the world engaging with the world."