In the latter half of last month I went back to Japan for an annual conference of ambassadors based in Europe. The 39 ambassadors present discussed Japan’s relations with the EU and its member states, with Russia and with Central Asian nations.
One of the key issues in Japan-EU relations concerns the launch of negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). This has been agreed in principle and the launch is expected to take place at the next Japan-EU summit, which Japan will host in spring. The negotiations may be long and exhaustive but the prize should be worth the effort. The establishment of an EPA will bring immense benefits to both sides in terms of increased trade and investment flows in both directions.
We also discussed the importance of our cultural and other ties between Japan and Europe. Moreover, in view of Europe’s sophisticated and lively media, we exchanged views on the need for Japan to be vigorous and unambiguous in projecting its position on the major issues of the day.
Foreign Minister Kishida joined us during our deliberations. He emphasised the importance of close relations between Japan and EU countries in view of the values we share with them, such as respect for the rule of law and human rights.
During the conference I had the opportunity to take part in a meeting with Prime Minister Abe. We discussed the importance to Japan of maintaining robust political and economic ties with the EU. After all, the EU boasts a total population of around 500 million and has a GDP higher than that of the US. Moreover, at round 1.4 million personnel, its military forces rival those of the US.
In addition, my ambassadorial colleagues and I had discussions with two groups of Parliamentarians respectively from the ruling LDP and the opposition DPJ as well as meeting with top business executives from the Nippon Keidanren.
I also extended my stay in Japan with a trip to Kyoto. I visited two universities in the city, Kyoto and Doshisha, where I addressed the students and faculty members on the topic of how the UK sees Europe. I had a good response from the audience in both cases, as was clear from the many questions they asked at the end.