May Seeks to Reassure Japan and Tease Out Post-Brexit Trade Deal

Prime Minister Theresa May flies to Japan with a lofty goal: convince the world’s third-biggest economy to use its trade deal with the European Union as a basis for a future agreement with the U.K.

With North Korea souring the mood next door, things may not go as planned. May will sit down with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Emperor Akihito and military and business officials and need to offer a key Asian ally and trade partner the kind of reassurances her top diplomat failed to do when he visited last month.

Japan is in the final stages of brokering a free-trade agreement with the world’s largest trading bloc, from which the U.K. is breaking away. That puts May in a difficult position, as her own predecessor hailed it as a landmark that would add an annual 5 billion pounds ($6.5 billion) to the U.K. economy.

The reality is that May will need all her powers of persuasion to extract commitments from the Japanese, given that her own team of negotiators in Brussels has failed to convince the EU to hurry divorce talks onto commerce.

To make the case, May takes with her 15 business executives, from Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Andy Palmer to Confederation of British Industry Director General Carolyn Fairbairn. Trade Secretary Liam Fox will also be on the plane.

May Comes Courting

“My discussions with Prime Minister Abe will focus on how we can prepare the ground for an ambitious free-trade agreement after Brexit, based on the EU-Japan agreement which I very much hope is nearing conclusion,” May said in a statement Tuesday evening.

With Softbank Group’s purchase of ARM Holdings Plc and factory expansions by Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., Japan is eager for reassurances — not just the platitudes it got from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. That includes support on how to contain North Korea’s growing menace, after the latest missile launch over Japan.

Describing Japan as…

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