LONDON--Britain's foreign secretary said his country plans to pursue a bilateral free trade agreement with Japan and concurrently participate in the 11-member Asia-Pacific free trade agreement after it withdraws from the European Union at the end of March.

"We do not believe it is inconsistent to be part of the TPP," Jeremy Hunt said during an interview with The Asahi Shimbun here on Jan. 8, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP-11). "And we are looking forward to making FTAs with the United States and Japan."

Japan has encouraged Britain to join the TPP-11.

During a meeting in London on Jan. 10, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed to negotiate a bilateral FTA and discuss the possibility of Britain’s participation in the TPP-11 after Brexit. The issue was included in a joint statement released after the meeting.

Discussing the post-Brexit process of signing trade accords with countries including Japan, Hunt said, “The biggest priority is an FTA with the EU, as it’s our biggest market.

“What I would say to Japanese companies (that) invested in the U.K., is that you chose the U.K. because we are geographically close to the European mainland--good access to markets--and we intend to maintain that access, and we intend to negotiate a deal that means that we can have the same access that Japanese companies currently have.”

About 1,000 Japanese companies have expanded their businesses in Britain. In preparation for Brexit, however, some companies have moved their headquarters to the European continent.

Hunt expressed understanding for such moves, saying: “We can’t guarantee everything. This is a negotiation. We are only at the halfway point.”

Hunt also showed appreciation for the influence of Japanese investment on the British economy, saying, “Japan helped the transformation of manufacturing in the 1980s.” He added that Japanese businesses are well known for taking a long-term view.

“In the long term, Britain is going to remain one of the most open and competitive economies in Europe,” he said.

The foreign secretary also urged Japanese companies to continue their economic activities the same as before.

(This article was written by Tsutomu Ishiai and Kayoko Geji.)