The north-east could benefit from its “historic economic link” to Japan, Aberdeen’s Lord Provost has said as the UK begins talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.
The negotiations come as London and Tokyo work towards replacing the agreement Britain currently has with Japan through the European Union.
Without a new deal by January 1 2021, the two countries will default to World Trade Organisation trading terms, meaning tariffs and obstacles would commence between the UK and its fourth-largest non-EU trading partner.
Aberdeen Lord Provost Barney Crockett said the beginning of trade talks is “wonderful news” for the city and the north-east of Scotland and has come “earlier” than expected.
High-ranking Japanese officials, including the country’s ambassador and tourism minister, visited the region two years ago as part of a tour to the region’s most iconic destinations, including Balmoral Castle and the Longmorn Distillery to the south of Elgin.
Mr Crockett said: “For Aberdeen, in particular, we can make the most of it (the trade talks).
“We have a historic economic link to Japan and I hope more businesses will be contacted to come to Aberdeen.
“The discussions with the ambassador were very fruitful about tourism in this area.
“He said we have the three things Japanese tourists want: golf, castles and whiskey so we hope that we could have a very healthy tourism link to Japan and I hope we can provide a very attractive base for Japanese companies to work.
“We could sell a lot of our products to Japan.”
He said we have the three things Japanese tourists want: golf, castles and whiskey so we hope that we could have a very healthy tourism link to Japan and I hope we can provide a very attractive base for Japanese companies to work.”
Lord Provost Barney Crockett.
The Lord Provost also highlighted the important link between the north-east and Japan due to 19th Century north-east merchant Thomas Blake Glover.
Born in Fraserburgh in 1838, the so-called Scottish Samurai played a pivotal role in the growth of Japan’s economy and even founded the business that eventually became the Mitsubshi Corporation.
Mr Crockett added: “He is a great figure in the history of Mitsubishi and I think we can use Glover as a bridge between the two countries.”
It comes as work gathers apace on plans for a new memorial, to be installed at the childhood home of the famous industrialist.
Mr Glover was born at 15 Commerce Street in Fraserburgh in 1838 but the building no longer stands and the site has been vacant since the Second World War.
However, the Fraserburgh 2021 project has launched a bid to build a dedicated space to Glover in his home town.
Alison Simpson, community engagement officer with the project, said they have confirmed designs for the garden with hopes of getting on site in the autumn.
The team also hopes to launch phase two of the project soon, to look at erecting a statue of Glover on the site.
She added: “It will really provide a focus for Japanese visitors to come and enjoy the spot in Fraserburgh where Glover was reportedly born.
“Fraserburgh was an extremely busy harbour when Glover was a young boy and that really influenced his future life.”
In Aberdeen, council bosses have long held aspirations of bringing another former home of Mr Glover’s, in Bridge of Don, back into use.
The property on Balgownie Road, which was formerly a museum honouring the man credited with helping to kick-start Japan’s industrial revolution, closed its doors in 2012.
Mr Crockett said the local authority is in “good discussions with interested parties” over the future of the building.
An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “We continue to look at options for a future and sustainable use of the house and how any development could be funded.
“The building is an intrinsic part of the Thomas Blake Glover legacy and the excellent relationships between Aberdeen and Japanese business.
“As a result of the Covid-19 response the work has not progressed in the recent months, but the overall business case development has not been abandoned.”
‘Long and historic links with Japan’
Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid, who served as a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to the Department of International Trade, welcomed the beginning of trade talks which can build on already “strong links” with Japan.
He added: “There are huge potential benefits to doing more business with Japan, which can help support jobs, increase access to Asian markets, grow our economy and drive up wages.
“The north-east of Scotland has long and historic links with Japan going back to the industrialist Thomas Blake Glover, who was originally from Fraserburgh.”
The International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, and the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, Motegi Toshimitsu, are launching negotiations via video conference call.
Ms Truss said the beginning of talks marks a “historic moment” in the “long-standing friendship” between the UK and Japan.
She added: “As we kick-start trade talks, we aim to strike a comprehensive free trade agreement that goes further than the deal previously agreed with the EU, setting ambitious standards in areas such as digital trade and services.”
However, Aberdeen South MP Stephen Flynn has thrown scorn on the endeavours of the Conservative government to establish new trade deals as a result of exiting the EU.
He said: “Let’s be clear, a trade deal between the EU and Japan was signed in 2018 that created the largest open trade zone in the world and accounts for nearly a third of global GDP – how the Tories plan to match that level of access as an isolated nation is beyond me.
“Independent analysis has shown Aberdeen to be the city hardest hit by Brexit yet the Tories remain hell bent on globetrotting the world offering anything and everything to get a deal over the line with countries in a far stronger negotiating position.”