I occasionally buy objects in local antiques shops which are a hybrid of Japanese and British design and manufacturing. Most of these date from the late 19th or early 20th century when Japonaiserie was at its peak in Europe.
Last year I bought a milk jug decorated with a picture of Mount Fuji, junk boats and thatched houses on it. It’s a very simple traditional British shape and most of the decoration apart from the gold highlights are transfer printed rather than hand decorated.
What caught my eye most of all was that the jug had an unusual metal hinged lid. Inside the lid is stamped “Clarke’s Patented”. It seems the lid had a design patented in the UK by a Mr Clarke, to allow the jug to pour or be filled, while keeping the lid on.
It shows that even in the 19th century, trade between Japan and the UK wasn’t just a bilateral shipping of objects entirely made and designed in one country. Maybe the mould for the jug was exported to Japan. Was the transfer print made and designed in Japan or the UK? Was the gold highlighting applied in Japan or the UK? Was the metal lid added after the jugs arrived in the UK? It’s possible the entire jug was designed and manufactured in the UK – but was heavily influenced by Japanese export ceramics.
This long history of interaction is why the Free Trade Agreement being negotiated between Japan and the UK is likely to be fairly basic and without much additional positive impact. A deal also needs to be reached quickly to ensure there are no new tariffs after January 1st 2021 when the Brexit transition period ends. The sector likely to produce the most gains in terms of reducing tariffs is food and agriculture, which usually causes the most difficulties and prolongs trade negotiations – so it seems likely this part will not roll over from the EU Japan EPA for the time being.
The UK proposal reflects this, emphasising British small and medium enterprises exporting to Japan, access to Japanese government procurement and the free flow of data.
Government procurement can also be very controversial. Many people in the UK are nervous about a trade agreement with the USA resulting in American healthcare companies being able to push for the privatisation of the UK’s national health service. There is also plenty of concern about data flows and Chinese investment in UK ICT infrastructure.
The chief of the UN has said the world is facing the biggest crisis since World War II. For Japan and the UK the post-war period was one of austerity but also innovation. Companies such as Sony and Honda were founded in Japan and the UK established the welfare state – the nationalisation of the health service, transport and energy.
So let us hope this crisis will bring about mutually beneficial new Japan-UK partnerships in social infrastructure and services, as well as in technology start-ups.
This article was originally published in Japanese in the Teikoku News, on 8th July 2020.
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