April 10 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister David Cameron began a four-day tour of Asia by calling on Japan to end trade restrictions on British companies to open the way for a free-trade agreement with the European Union.
Cameron will press counterpart Yoshihiko Noda on trade before they discuss security issues in North Korea and Iran and violence in Syria today, according to his office in London. Cameron, who is leading a delegation of 35 British business leaders, also will visit Nissan Motor Co.’s Yokohama headquarters.
“Last year I pushed hard to get backing of fellow EU leaders for work to start scoping out the shape of such an EU-Japan free-trade deal,” Cameron said. “I really hope we can open formal negotiations later this year. But in order to win the argument in the EU, Japan needs to demonstrate its readiness and commitment to non-tariff barriers.”
Cameron has led similar delegations to India and China as he seeks new markets for British companies and after leaving Japan he’s scheduled to travel to Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar. The effort is part of a plan to make exports an engine for growth as the U.K. economy struggles to avoid a second recession in three years.
Leaders from companies such as Barclays Plc, BAE Systems Plc, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc will form part of the traveling group who will sign deals with Japanese companies valued at 200 million pounds ($318 million). Nissan said it will build a new hatchback car at its Sunderland, England plant, adding 225 jobs.
“We want to attract more investment like this,” Cameron said. Nissan in March said it will expand production in Sunderland and add 2,000 jobs.
Cameron defended the decision to include defense company executives in the business delegation and said he would seek to make the most of Japan’s decision last year to allow its companies to take part in arms-development projects and procure equipment from countries besides the U.S.
“There are a number of defense manufacturers with us,” he told reporters on the flight to Tokyo. “But as these countries, particularly Japan, that have tended in the past to buy only American equipment are opening up, there are opportunities for people like AgustaWestland, who make helicopters, who are on this plane.”
Among other deals, Mitsubishi Corp. will sign an agreement to develop a new generator for wind turbines in Edinburgh and Panasonic Corp. will develop fuel-cell research in Cardiff, Downing Street said ahead of the trip. Japanese investment in the U.K. amounts to about 26 billion pounds, or a fifth of all Japanese investment in Europe, according to Cameron’s office.
Trailing in Polls
The visit may also help shift Cameron’s political fortunes after two weeks of negative headlines following Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s annual budget that have seen the Conservative Party trail the opposition in opinion polls.
A backlash following Osborne’s decision to tax pensioners more, uproar over his decision to charge sales tax on some hot take-away food and the mishandling of a threatened strike by fuel-tanker drivers opened a five percentage-point Labour lead over the Conservatives, a poll by Survation showed.
Thirty-five percent of voters said they would back Labour in a general election, with 30 percent supporting the Conservatives, according to the poll commissioned by the Mail on Sunday newspaper. Survation interviewed 1,039 people online between April 5-6.
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