Having vowed to rush into a post-Brexit trade deal, Japan and Britain have made significant strides in finding that Stilton’s fate has driven a wedge between them.
In recent talks in London, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi reached a “substantial” preliminary trade deal, promising to reach a preliminary deal by the end of the month. month.
But after reaching a broad consensus on auto tariffs and going “significantly” further than expected in sectors such as financials, they would have come to a standstill on Stilton after Truss insisted on making it part of the negotiations.
Truss is known to have stood up for British cheese makers, condemning Britain’s huge appetite for foreign cheese as a ‘disgrace’ at the 2014 Conservative Party conference.
Britain is seeking more preferential terms for its blue cheeses, according to business newspaper Nikkei Asian Review, amid pressure on Boris Johnson by British farmers worried about the impending loss of EU subsidies.
Japan is set to phase out tariffs on hard cheeses like cheddar by 2033, but refuses to sweeten fresh and marbled varieties, which would benefit from duty-free access on a quota agreed on the same date, reported the Financial Times. .
Japan is reportedly reluctant to offer Britain better terms than it has given the EU, which has a combined population nearly seven times the size of Britain, in a free trade deal entered into force at the beginning of last year.
But there is speculation that Tokyo might consider lowering barriers to blue-veined cheeses, given the relatively low costs involved.
Britain exported £ 18million of blue cheese to the world last year, the FT said, citing data from the Agriculture and Horticultural Development Council, but only £ 102,000 went in Japan.
And Truss would hope to point to the Japanese concessions on Stilton as proof that Britain has improved the EU’s trade deal with Japan.
While officials in Tokyo have not denied the Nikkei report, Motegi, making the first overseas trip by a Japanese minister since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, said he was confident both sides would reach a preliminary deal by the end of August, only four. months before Britain left the EU.
Truss, meanwhile, said the latest round of negotiations, which began in June, had been “positive and productive”.
She said in a statement: “We have reached consensus on the main elements of an agreement, including ambitious provisions in areas such as digital, data and financial services that go far beyond the EU-Japan agreement. “
Japanese business leaders have expressed concern over the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit. About 1,000 Japanese companies employing 180,000 people are present in the United Kingdom, according to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Total bilateral trade totaled £ 31.6 billion last year, with 9,500 UK-based companies exporting goods to Japan, according to UK government figures.