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The West is looking to forge new alliances in the face of authoritarian state threats from Russia, China and Iran. A major strategic push has been made by both the United States and the United Kingdom to establish an ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ – emphasising the importance of this region in providing security, democracy and freedom to both large and small countries away from the traditionally Euro-centric geopolitics of the past.

For Japan, this is a very positive development. As stated by Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister, Nishimura Yasutoshi, during a visit to Washington D.C. this month, the Indo-Pacific tilt is “of great significance for both the United States and partner countries in the region”.

Yet thinking about and visiting a region is only the first step on the path to effective engagement. As Yasutoshi also stated, the West must fully embrace free trade agreements with countries like India and Japan if it is to secure the long-term economic and socio-political prosperity of these nations – and ourselves.

The UK and US must both “hold high the banner of free trade” as Japan suggests, as well as promoting freer movement, research and education initiatives and greater defence cooperation. The UK and Japan are already demonstrating this in last week’s announcement of a Reciprocal Access Agreement, which will allow the two nations to cooperate more quickly in joint exercises and share logistical information and supplies. This only makes sense when nations like Japan are so aligned in their philosophy with the West, fully embracing democratic governance, liberal ethics and the benefits of free trade. Japan also recently became a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, signalling a clear desire to move closer to the West as the threat of Chinese incursion into Taiwan becomes clearer. We should welcome this with open arms.

Reciprocal access agreements are nothing new, but they send a clear message to both allies and aggressors that the UK and Japan are prepared to work together to defend their interests. Australia would also benefit from such an agreement and has looked to CANZUK for support in this regard, demonstrating the potential for the UK to play a greater role.

Closer relations and cooperation also makes sense when it comes to India, a nation which will soon be the most populous on Earth, and which currently hangs in the balance between liberal democracy and authoritarianism. Comprehensive pacts including a multitude of issues, from visas to missile defence systems, will help us to become closer partners as well as allow each nation to receive the best advantages of the other. This principle – comparative advantage – is the very reason we trade with other parties in the first place. Recent reports in Politico (10th January) indicate that India takes its defence partnership with the UK very seriously, especially in light of recent tensions with China over the Line of Actual Control. These issues are not going to go away, and the UK must have a response to potential dangers to global security in the region.

Free trade is not just about reducing barriers to entry for foreign workers or lowering tariffs on steel or wheat. It’s about embracing a mindset that cooperation is better than isolation and protectionism. Free trade is the choice to boldly compete with workers and corporations in other nations, allowing the most competitive offering to win the share of the market, and reaping the rewards of lower prices and more diverse goods. Less red tape and more use of the advantages of each nation’s resources and skills works for both of us, as well as serving as a symbolic gesture that we will support Japan’s economy (the third largest in the world) as well as their defence. The UK and Japan have the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) as the basis for this relationship post-Brexit, and we must seek to expand it. CEPA was a copy-paste from the EU-Japanese EPA (even in its title), and we must utilise our new flexibility to reduce further tariffs and encourage immigration of skilled workers.

China and Russia understand the power of markets and have thus far used them to their own benefit. For decades, China’s economic liberalisation following the end of Mao Zedong Thought was intent on understanding and exploiting market economics to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party and its interests. Abandoning a command economy, China’s ‘economic miracle’ used cheap labour and an abundance of raw materials to dominate supply chains, making the West reliant on Chinese goods like PPE that would disappear when we needed them the most. Russia, similarly, has weaponised their dominance over the oil and gas markets in Europe, pressuring the West to cease its support for Ukraine by threatening to turn the heating off and the lights out. The Russian-Ukraine war may make advocates of free trade nervous – after all, Russia didn’t liberalise no matter how much oil we bought from them – but this only demonstrates the need to pivot our supply chains and trade away from authoritarian and untrustworthy nations towards reliable and democratic partners.

The basis of ‘Global Britain’ must be promoting democratic liberalisation through defence cooperation and free trade agreements without equivocating on issues of democratic governance and liberal norms. If the United States is to shrink back from the world stage and turn inward, Global Britain must step forward and look to its horizons.

Japan have rightly recognised that freedom, democracy and human rights cannot and must not be taken for granted. Free trade is just one tool in the Western toolbox to promote the values which matter to us: democracy, transparency, equality under the law and individual liberty. It is time that the West listens to those who are most at risk if we forget these lessons.

Joshua Taggart is a consultant at Atticus Partners. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Carlo Obrien]