LONDON/TOKYO -- Britain has secured its first big post-Brexit trade deal, an agreement with Japan that it hailed as "historic" as it struggles to agree on trade with its closest trading partners in the European Union.
Since formally leaving the EU in January, Britain has focused on negotiating new trade deals with countries around the world, although experts say they are unlikely to replace exports lost to the bloc if a deal cannot be reached with Brussels.
Big Japanese investors in Britain such as Nissan and supplier Hitachi will benefit from reduced tariffs on parts, the British government said.
The deal reduced Britain's tariffs on Japanese cars in stages to zero by 2026, which is the same as in the Japan-EU trade agreement. The issue of automobiles was one of Japan's main interests.
"This is a historic moment for the UK and Japan as our first major post-Brexit trade deal," British trade minister Liz Truss said on Friday.
"The agreement we have negotiated -- in record time and in challenging circumstances -- goes far beyond the existing EU deal, as it secures new wins for British businesses in our great manufacturing, food and drink, and tech industries."
The deal had been widely seen as one the easiest within reach for London, based largely on the EU-Japan agreement which covers Britain until the end of December, when a Brexit transition period ends.
The British automotive trade group SMMT said Friday that it welcomed the deal.
"While we await the full terms of the agreement and, in particular, evidence that it will deliver in full on industry’s priorities for the progressive lifting of tariffs and reduction of regulatory barriers," the group said in a statement, "the conclusion of such a [free-trade agreement] represents a significant milestone for our industries."
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the talks had been difficult "but we managed to reach an agreement in principle with extraordinary speed, in just three months."
He said Japan was aiming for the deal on Jan. 1.
Japan has used Britain as a pro-business gateway into the rest of the EU, but some Japanese politicians have expressed concerns that a so-called no-deal Brexit might affect this.
Britain said the deal meant that 99 percent of its exports to Japan would be tariff-free, and that it could increase trade by 15.2 billion pounds ($19.4 billion) in the long run, compared with 2018.