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New digital and data agreements included as UK announces first post-Brexit trade deal with Japan

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The UK government today announced its first post-Brexit trade deal with Japan – and says it includes digital and data provisions that go well beyond the UK’s previous Japanese deal, agreed via the EU. 

The deal, agreed in principle this morning, is set to mean that UK businesses benefit from tariff-free trade on 99% of its exports to Japan and, says the UK government today, it will means “cutting-edge digital and data provisions” that will “enable free flow of data whilst also maintaining high standards of protection for personal data”. 

It added: “We have also committed to uphold the principles of net neutrality as well as introducing a ban on data localisation, which will prevent British businesses from having the extra cost of setting up servers in Japan.”

The deal also introduces new protections for UK brands and innovations and for geographical indications including Welsh lamb, Yorkshire Wensleydale and English sparkling wine.

UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said: “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.”

Government figures show that Japan is currently the UK’s fourth largest export market beyond the EU, and in 2018 accounted for just over 2% of the UK’s total exports. Japan is also the sixth largest investor in the UK. 

Britain’s largest trading partner remains the EU which, figures from the House of Commons Library show, accounted for 43% of all UK exports, worth £300bn, in 2019, while UK imports from the EU accounted for 51% of all imports and were worth £372bn. 

Currently talks between the EU and the UK on a post-Brexit transition deal are going through a moment of drama, as up to 30 Conservative MPs are reported to be prepared to revolt if the government does not end its efforts to overwrite, through a new Internal Markets Bill, parts of the EU Withdrawal Agreement that it signed in Januaryl. The EU has threatened to take legal action if the UK does not scrap those plans by the end of this month. 

As of today, there are 111 days remaining in the transition period between the EU and the UK, following the UK’s departure from the EU in January. If no trade deal with the EU is agreed, exports and imports between the two will revert to World Trade Organisation rules as of January 1 2021, with accompanying tariffs. Whether a deal is agreed or not, customs checks on exports will take place from January 1. 

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