That UK-Japan trade triumph celebrated

From our man in Japan

Congratulations to Britain on winning its first post-Brexit trade deal — and with mighty Japan, no less. 

The champions of the bill tell us triumphantly that Britain can now sell lamb and stilton in unlimited quantities with reduced tariffs to the eager gourmands of the far east. 

What the Brexit trade champs fail to tell the good British public is that there is no demand for either lamb or stilton in Japan. 

Lamb from New Zealand and Australia has been available for decades, and the Japanese punter just isn’t into it. The vast majority of people in Japan who have tried lamb dismiss is as smelly and offensive. If the might of the antipodean meat marketing industry can’t shift the Japanese taste its way, what hope does shambolic little Britain have?

The story is much the same with stilton. The country just doesn’t do blue cheese. It’s stinky and the flavours are alien. Of those people who do like blue cheese, vanishingly few have even heard of stilton. Stilton is occasionally available in the shops already, is regularly overlooked by the six people in the nation who do like blue cheese for gorgonzola and roquefort which carry heavier name recognition and cachet. For the budget minded cheese muncher, Danish Blue is easier to find, and it’s about to get cheaper.

Cheerful expectations of Japan’s population suddenly smearing stilton on lamb and gorging themselves are much exaggerated and a wee bit arrogant. Substitute that vision with one of horrified folk pushing British exports back into the harbour with barge poles. 

On top of this, it turns out the Japanese tariffs on British food are not going away immediately. They will be phased out by 2035. That’s fifteen years away. Fifteen years of tariffs on stuff that few people want anyway. Many of the people waving their union jack underpants in the air in their trade frenzy will actually be dead by the time the full benefits of the agreement are in effect.

Neither is the deal with Japan a new deal: it’s a replacement deal, a substitute for the EU deals in which Britain was formerly included. It’s not a coup de main, it’s a patch-up job. 

It’s odd that the UK’s Brexit supporting media put such a triumphant spin on this squib of a deal. One wonders why they did that. But one doesn’t wonder long.

The agreement with Japan is expected to help the British economy by 0.07%, a small fraction of what it will lose through leaving the EU. Japan has a population of 125 million while the EU is 450 million with whom we have no deal. As Japan tariffs go down (slowly) on a market of at best peripheral importance, tariffs on British goods going to the EU, a massive market on its doorstep, go up. You don’t need to be a world class economist to do those sums. 

Meanwhile, Japan has done a separate deal with the EU on better terms than the UK deal. Japan was always clear that the British deal was going to be inferior because they did not want to undermine the EU deal by doing competing deals with third parties. 

Which means that stilton’s archenemies gorgonzola and roquefort are going to be even more competitive because they are beneficiaries of an even lower tariffs.

A trade triumph? No, it’s another Dad’s Army farce from the Brexit brigade and you’ve been had. We’ve all been had. This deal is one step forward, and six glorious flag-waving steps back. 

Words: Chris Page in Osaka, Japan (just hitting the gentle reader over the head with this byline FROM JAPAN)

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