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December 7, 2022

UK and Japan collaborate on tech supply chain resilience

The partnership is designed to make it easier for the two countries to collaborate on R&D, regulation and innovations.

By Ryan Morrison

The UK government has unveiled a new digital partnership with Japan designed to improve collaboration between the two countries on data regulation, supply chain resilience and artificial intelligence. The move will make it “quicker for innovations in technology,” one analyst told Tech Monitor.

The agreement is non-binding but instead is designed to improve lines of communication and make collaboration easier (Photo: UniqueEye/Shutterstock)
The agreement is non-binding but is designed to improve lines of communication and make collaboration easier. (Photo by UniqueEye/Shutterstock)

The Japanese and UK IT sectors are worth more than £406bn combined and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) says it hopes the new partnership will boost both sectors through “international collaboration on complex tech issues.”

It will see more structured engagements between the two governments on a range of digital issues. These will include the global supply chains for semiconductors and telecommunications, developing joint R&D projects and initiatives to share expertise.

Cyber resilience is a significant part of the new agreement, with efforts to standardise the security of internet-connected products and apps available in both countries, which will then help to address the risks of digital services in the supply chain.

The UK has been keen to strike tech-related agreements with other countries, having recently announced digital trade deals with Ukraine and Singapore.

UK Japan data regulation exchange

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office will also work with Japanese regulators on partnerships that make it easier for companies to ensure they comply with data security and privacy legislation, as well as give citizens certainty over security of data.

“Our thriving tech sectors are another opportunity for us to work together to benefit citizens and businesses across both countries,” said DCMS Secretary Michelle Donelan. “I look forward to deepening our relationship through the UK-Japan Digital Partnership in the future.”

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Several ministries are directly involved in the partnership including Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry and the UK’s DCMS.

They will cover a wide range of interests including telecoms diversification, semiconductors, artificial intelligence, data innovation, online safety, digital markets, internet governance and “ensuring the benefits of digital technologies reach all parts of our societies”.

There are no legally binding obligations on either side of the agreement, rather it is set up as a bilateral partnership that builds on existing links between the two countries and makes the flow of information easier.

For example, in March 2022 the UK and Japan began to pursue closer cooperation to solve global telecoms supply chain issues, including the formation of a supplier diversity working group with a commitment to share information on policy initiatives and explore opportunities for collaborative R&D projects.

Semiconductors are likely to play a large part in the partnership, with Japan’s industry fourth globally in terms of manufacturing equipment sales and the UK keen to grow its own sector.

Semiconductor industry could play a key role

DCMS recently launched a feasibility study into the formation of a national institution which could boost the infrastructure underpinning the UK’s industry through the government’s upcoming semiconductor strategy.

News of the study came off the back of a highly critical report into the UK government’s approach to the semiconductor industry by MPs on the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee, which said the government has “overlooked” the industry. It called for the semiconductor strategy, which has been more than two years in the making, to be published immediately by DCMS.

The UK-Japan deal will make it "quicker for innovations in technology or approaches to use of data to be used to benefit each other’s society,” says Ben Kaner, senior director analyst at Gartner. However, he doesn’t think it will have a notable impact on growth as “Japan/UK is only one strand of a complex network of supply both of technology and IT services.”

Kaner says over time AI is most likely going to be the “most critical part of the agreement” as “the important factor is ease of reaching out and providing services into each other’s markets such that both populations can benefit from innovations at all levels.”

His view is that both countries will benefit equally, the UK from Japan's manufacturing experience and Japan from the UKs digital services.

Tom Winstanley is UK and Ireland CTO at IT services provider NTT, which is headquartered in Japan and has a strong presence in the UK. He told Tech Monitor there is already evidence of work from Japan being implemented in the UK including through 5G ecosystems and next-generation networking efforts.

“In a digital era, borders no longer solely exist on maps, but also between the lines of regulatory documents,” Winstanley explained. “By aligning digital regulations between the UK and Japan, this new digital partnership will be crucial for promoting collaborative innovation, as well as improving the data security between the nations, which is a great concern for digital businesses.”

He added: "Japan has always been a nation renowned for its forward-thinking approach and its innovative technology solutions, and the UK is steeped in tech history itself, with London featuring as a renowned global fintech hub, so both countries stand to benefit greatly from this new collaboration. This partnership will further consolidate the UK and Japan as global leaders when it comes to innovation and will accelerate vital research towards creating smarter, more progressive, and more harmonious societies in future."

Read more: The UK has a grand plan to digitise trade. It might just work.

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