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UK-Japan trade talks sour after letter from Hunt and Fox
The UK's latest attempt to persuade Japan to agree a quick post-Brexit trade deal has backfired after officials in Tokyo reacted with dismay at British tactics.

Theresa May's government is already battling to mend relations with China, after Beijing cancelled a key trade meeting with chancellor Philip Hammond in protest at a UK pledge to send an aircraft carrier to the Pacific.

Relations with Japan have soured as a result of a letter from the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt and international trade secretary Liam Fox which told their Japanese counterparts that "time is of the essence" and said flexibility would be required on both sides.

Although UK officials insisted that the letter, sent on February 8, had been couched in standard diplomatic language, Japanese officials believe that it reflected an increasingly high-handed approach from the British side. In response, officials in Tokyo briefly considered cancelling a round of trade talks this week.

In one section, the letter said that "we are committed to [speed and flexibility] and hope that Japan is too" -- a line which, according to people close to Japanese trade officials, was read in Tokyo as an accusation of foot-dragging. People familiar with the situation said that Japan was finalising an appropriate response a week after Mr Hunt and Mr Fox's letter had landed.

Although Japanese businesses, particularly in the automotive and financial services sectors, have spent two years fretting over a hard Brexit or a no-deal scenario, the UK's desperation to have trade deals in place before or shortly after its scheduled departure from the EU on March 29 is now becoming increasingly clear to the Japanese public.

Japan's state broadcaster NHK devoted part of an extended show on the 40-day countdown to Brexit by showing a bewildered panel of presenters a "Brexit survival pack" of dried foods and other provisions.

Australia provided a measure of relief for the UK when Simon Birmingham, trade minister, told the Financial times that Canberra was willing to sign a fast-tracked trade deal with London in the event of a no-deal Brexit, adding that "I would absolutely hope that we would conclude negotiations this year." But Mr Birmingham poured cold water on Britain's ambition to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional bloc.

Japanese officials familiar with Tokyo's bilateral talks with the UK said that there had been growing frustration with the British side.

Although Japan acknowledges that progress has naturally slowed while their UK counterparts have been pulled into preparations for a no-deal Brexit, officials say there have been several occasions when British negotiators have come to the table without the necessary specialists to take negotiations forward.

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Feb 18th, 2019 at 10:19:43 AM EST

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