Most pundits and government analysts have indicated that Brexit will produce far-reaching changes and consequences, but few of these individuals—and few citizens—expected the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union to create such a down-to-the-wire situation as this, which involves a UK trade ship potentially being turned away from Japan.
A trade ship destined for Japan departed from the UK on 20 February. When this vessel lands in “The Land of the Rising Sun,” it’s unclear if its crew will be legally able to unload their goods. The reason for this all-too-real dilemma is that a new free-trade agreement hasn’t yet been established between the UK and Japan.
In addition to requiring a trade agreement with Japan, the UK must still negotiate agreements with roughly 40 other states. The country’s preexisting trade agreements were part of the European Union’s collective arrangement; because the United Kingdom left the European Union (the movement has been labeled “Brexit”), government officials will need to craft and sign new trade contracts with other countries.
The UK is set to officially leave the EU on 29 March, and the ship in-question, Thalassa Mana, is expected to arrive in Osaka, Japan on 30 March. The ship was legally obligated to depart—and travel—when it did, as the UK will be bound to previously agreed upon EU trade policies until Brexit becomes official.
Experts have indicated that a new trade agreement won’t likely be reached between Japan and the United Kingdom in advance of the cargo ship’s arrival. In the event that an agreement isn’t reached, analysts have stated that two main options will be available. The first (and more likely) involves the ship remaining docked until an agreement (potentially a short-term agreement) is reached between the governments. The second option involves the ship refueling and departing back to the United Kingdom without unloading its merchandise.
Critics of Brexit have cited this episode as proof that it was a mistake for the UK to exit the EU; other critics yet have used the potential incident to illustrate what they believe to be a badly handled withdrawal process. Supports of Brexit, inversely, are confident that the UK can establish more lucrative and beneficial trade agreements than it participated in while part of the EU. Politically independent pundits have claimed that the effects of this and other trade negotiations will have to be monitored for weeks and months down the line for any particular conclusion to be reached.
While trade agreements haven’t been finalized between the UK and about 40 countries, once again, many other treaties have been confirmed. These treaties will allow trade to continue between the UK and many other nations as it did prior to the former’s exiting the EU—with some new trade allotments and valuations affecting deals, of course.
Japanese government officials haven’t commented publicly on the matter, and it’s unclear what they plan to do in the event that a British merchant vessel arrives at their port without a trade agreement in place. No similar event has taken place in recent history.
Government officials, analysts, citizens, and Thalassa Mana crew members will have more information and answers on 30 March.