LONDON: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday (Friday in Manila) warned that Britain would become “less attractive” for Japanese investment if it votes to leave the European Union in a June referendum.
Following talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron at his Downing Street office in London, Abe said many Japanese companies chose specifically to be based in Britain because they saw it as a gateway to the EU bloc.
“A vote to leave would make the UK less attractive as a destination for Japanese investment,” Abe told reporters at a press conference.
“British membership is also best for Japanese investors in the UK. About 1,000 Japanese companies operate in the UK, employing 140,000 people.
“Many of the Japanese companies set up their operations in the UK precisely because the UK is a gateway to the EU.
“Japan very clearly would prefer Britain to remain within the EU. It is better for the world that Britain remains in a strong EU,” he said.
Cameron said Japanese investment in Britain totaled £38 billion ($55 billion, 48 billion euros) at the end of 2014 and had played a particularly important role in reviving British car manufacturing.
Nissan Sunderland in northeast England is Britain’s biggest car plant.
“Japan is a country that matters enormously to the prosperity of the UK,” said Cameron, who wants Britain to remain in the EU.
Japan and Britain are the world’s third and fifth biggest economies respectively.
EU trade Japan’s priority
Japan and the EU are closing in on signing an economic partnership agreement, which Cameron said could be worth £5 billion a year to Britain.
“Japan and the UK believe it is very important to reach a political agreement on the Japan-EU EPA as soon as possible this year,” Abe said.
“Japan’s priority is negotiating trade deals with Europe, with the EU, a large trade area rather than individual states in Europe.
“Britain has a greater voice in trade negotiations because it is part of the EU.”
Abe said that due to the close partnership between Tokyo and London, Japan’s interests were at stake in the referendum, which polls suggest could be neck-and-neck.
“For all these reasons, Britain’s friends around the world, including Japan, will be watching your decision on June 23 with very close attention.”
Abe is not the first foreign leader to visit Britain and voice support for it staying in the EU.
Last month US President Barack Obama said Britain being in the EU magnified its global influence, and outside the bloc it would go to the “back of the queue” when it came to signing trade deals.
Abe has visited Italy, France, Belgium and Germany this month in preparation for hosting the Group of Seven summit on May 26 and 27 in the Ise-Shima region between Tokyo and Osaka.
He said the summit would focus on the world economy and global security.
Abe heads to Russia on Friday for talks with President Vladimir Putin.