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UK PM Theresa May in Japan to soothe Brexit fears — Here's what you need to know

  • Japan, which is prioritizing talks with the European Union over a landmark free trade deal, has been direct with Britain in voicing its concern about the danger Brexit poses to its own UK-based companies.
  • May landed in Kyoto at approximately 2:00 p.m. local time on Wednesday, about a day-and-a-half after North Korea sparked a major geopolitical security scare when it fired a missile over the north of Japan.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by dignitaries as she arrives in Japan on August 30, 2017 in Kyoto, Japan.
Carl Court | Staff | Getty Images
British Prime Minister Theresa May is greeted by dignitaries as she arrives in Japan on August 30, 2017 in Kyoto, Japan.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May touched down in Japan on Wednesday, with aspirations to soothe Brexit concerns and drum up trade from the world's third-largest economy.

Japan, which is prioritizing talks with the European Union over a landmark free trade deal, has been direct with Britain in voicing its concern about the danger Brexit poses to its own UK-based companies. Japanese firms based in Britain currently employ around 140,000 people, according to its government.

Speaking to reporters ahead of her three-day trip to Japan, May said: "There's obviously a number of trade deals that the EU has with other countries and we are looking at the possibility of those being able to be brought over into, certainly initially, trade deals with the United Kingdom."

"I think we will give business certainty, which is what business wants at the point at which we leave," May added.

'May hoping for a political win… she won't get it'

Britain's freedom to forge new trade deals independently of the EU - as a result of Brexit - has been championed by Westminster, but businesses have frequently expressed trepidation about how existing trade relationships will work after leaving the EU.

The U.K. cannot officially negotiate bilateral trade deals until the country departs the bloc in 2019.

May has consistently argued that Britain should try to replicate several of the existing arrangements it has as an EU state before gradually introducing change.

However, EU officials say this approach attempts to keep the benefits of EU membership without incurring the necessary costs.

Britain's prime minister is due to meet her Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, later on Wednesday. May will be accompanied by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox as well as 15 other business executives from a range of sectors.

When asked whether May had any chance of securing a potential trade deal with Japan before Britain is to leave the European Union, Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce, global geopolitical analyst at Standard Chartered, replied, "No. There is no hope that she can get any trade deal."

"She was just hoping to have a political win of a promise (or) a hope maybe, of a trade deal … She won't get it," Dauba-Pantanacce told CNBC on Wednesday.

Japanese firms could relocate to Europe post-Brexit

Vehicles go through final checks after being assembled on the production line at a Toyota plant on October 24, 2014 in Derby, England.
Peter Macdiarmid | Staff | Getty Images
Vehicles go through final checks after being assembled on the production line at a Toyota plant on October 24, 2014 in Derby, England.

In September 2016, Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned Brexit could prompt Japanese companies to move their European head offices out of the country.

The report urged Westminster to deal with anxiety among business leaders in a "responsible manner."

Carmakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda as well as Nomura bank and high-tech giant Hitachi all have bases in the U.K.

"With the U.K. on the path to leave the EU, if we are unable to have the free flow of trade and people across borders (then) that will inevitably bring costs up and reduce competition. We have made it clear to the government we need to prevent that post-Brexit," Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada told CNBC via a translation this week.

North Korea

May landed in Kyoto at approximately 2:00 p.m. local time on Wednesday, about a day-and-a-half after North Korea sparked a major geopolitical security scare when it fired a missile over the north of Japan.

An emergency United Nations Security Council meeting is said to be considering fresh sanctions against Pyongyang.

May responded to reporter's questions en route to Kyoto on Wednesday and repeatedly stressed the U.K.'s focus would remain on limiting North Korea's missile program. She added China, Pyongyang's neighbor and sometime ally, could do more to assist with this objective.

"China has, I think, a very key role to play in terms of the pressure it can bring … I have said this to President Xi, others have as well. We think that China has a role to play and we'd encourage China to do everything it can to bring pressure on North Korea to stop this," May said.