Industry body The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has welcomed a new trade deal between the UK and Japan announced this morning (11 September).

Although short on detail at this stage, the UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) said the country’s “first major trade deal as an independent trading nation” improves its terms of trade with Japan, could protect more regional food labels, including Wensleydale cheese and Welsh lamb and will mean “big tariff reductions” for pork, beef and salmon.

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The UK government said there will be low tariff access for Stilton cheese, a product reported to have been a sticking point in these talks.

The new trade agreement cannot come into effect until the start of next year when the 12-month transition period following the UK’s departure from the EU is at an end. Until then, the UK is operating under the terms of trade deals agreed at the EU level.

Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at FDF, said: “UK food and drink manufacturers are delighted to hear the UK has concluded a comprehensive new trade deal with Japan. As the world’s largest net importer of food and drink, this deal with Japan improves our existing terms of trade and offers significant new growth opportunities for quality UK manufacturing. We particularly welcome the additional flexibility this deal delivers in terms of rules of origin which are so crucial for our industry.

“The agreement recognises the unique challenge posed by seasonality and provides confidence for UK exporters across a wide range of product categories. This deal can make a vital contribution towards the UK’s economic recovery and our industry is ready to deliver for every community across the UK.”

Jim Walker, managing director of UK sweet biscuit firm Walkers Shortbread, also welcomed the deal. He said: “Japan remains one of Walkers’ most important markets and sales have grown steadily there since first launching in Japan over 40 years ago.

“This deal will help provide certainty and create more opportunities to continue building sales in the future in a market where our products already enjoy success.”

Describing the deal as “historic”, the UK’s International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said UK businesses will benefit from tariff-free trade on 99% of exports to Japan. 

She added: “Strategically, the deal is an important step towards joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership and placing Britain at the centre of a network of modern free trade agreements with like-minded friends and allies.”

The DIT pointed to “new and more liberal rules of origin” being part of the agreement.

It said there would be “new protection for more iconic UK goods – increasing geographical indications (GIs) from just seven under the terms of the EU-Japan deal to potentially over 70 under our new agreement, covering goods including English sparkling wine, Yorkshire Wensleydale and Welsh lamb. This would lead to improved recognition of key UK brands in the Japanese market”.

The DIT said it has negotiated a deal that sees tariffs fall on pork, beef, salmon and a range of other agricultural exports. 

“We will continue to benefit from access to the low tariffs for key food and drink products covered by quotas, such as Stilton cheese, tea extracts and bread mixes,” it said.

Last month, it was reported that Stilton cheese had become a sticking point in the talks.

Multiple news reports suggested the UK was seeking more preferential terms for its traditional blue cheeses, such as Stilton, whereas Japan was looking to stick to EU-agreed levels.