David Cameron has praised fresh Japanese investment in the UK car industry as part of a major trade mission to South East Asia.

Although the Prime Minister's political image has been under fire at home, Cameron will step on to the world stage with a pledge to drum up business for Britain.

His first stop will be Tokyo, Japan - a visit that had been scheduled for last autumn but was postponed amid the eurozone crisis.

In talks with counterpart Yoshihiko Noda, Cameron hopes to seal agreements that will help UK firms access the country's previously closed defence industry.

He is also pushing British expertise in nuclear decommissioning, as Japan continues its clean-up in the wake of last year's massive earthquake.

Representatives from BAE Systems, the Nuclear Industry Association and Rolls-Royce will be among more than 35 senior executives accompanying the Premier on his trip.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Science Minister David Willetts and Chief Scientist Sir John Beddington are also going.

Government officials insist that exports to countries where Mr Cameron takes a trade delegation are boosted by a fifth.

Deals are also due on more than £200 million of new Japanese investment in Britain, said to be creating 1,500 jobs and safeguarding thousands more.

Mr Cameron will visit Nissan's headquarters in Yokohama tomorrow, where the car giant is to announce that its Sunderland plant will produce a new hatchback from 2014.

"It's fantastic news that Nissan will be building their new hatchback model in the UK and that they expect to create more than 1,000 jobs at the Sunderland plant and in the supply chain across the country," he said.

"It is proof of the strength and vitality of the British manufacturing industry that leading companies like Nissan are expanding their production in the UK."

Other announcements will include Panasonic setting up a fuel cell research and development centre in Cardiff, and a Mitsubishi project in Edinburgh to build a new type of generator for wind turbines.

The Prime Minister will stress that the coalition's policies mean the UK has the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7, making it an attractive destination for foreign firms.

He will also call for faster progress towards establishing a free trade area between the EU and Japan.

Japan is still the world's third largest economy despite enduring a "lost decade" of stagnation - similar to that predicted by some for Britain.

Mr Cameron and Mr Noda are due to discuss tactics for dealing with the global economic malaise.

They will also hold talks on the dangers posed by nearby North Korea - which is expected to stoke controversy by test firing a rocket later this week.

However, Mr Cameron's focus on wider political and economic matters is unlikely to mean he escapes pressure over the continuing domestic fallout from the Budget and civil liberties rows that have been dogging the coalition.

Speaking to Japanese newspaper Yomiuri ahead of his visit, he said the countries were "old friends" but wanted to deepen ties.
"There's an important diplomatic, political sense to this.

"But also I think that we're both in need of economic growth and economic development, and I think the chance of expanding our trade and investment ties is very strong...

"There is obviously very important inward investment from Japan into Britain.

"We're very proud of the fact that companies like Nissan, Toyota, Honda - all of whom I've visited in the UK - very proud of that investment. I want to see a new generation of investment into those plants.

"But also we think there's a big opportunity to open up greater exports from Britain into the Japanese economy."

Mr Cameron went on: "I greatly admire and respect the way the Japanese have overcome the enormous challenges of recovery following last year's earthquake.

"The UK stood by Japan in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake when we kept our Embassy open in Tokyo and through the reassuring advice of our Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington, who will be joining me on this trip.

"Looking to the future, we want to continue to support the Japanese as they reconstruct the Tohoku region and tackle the challenges of the nuclear clean-up.

"British companies have significant expertise in nuclear decommissioning and clean-up, with 19 nuclear sites in the UK currently being managed through the process.

"I really think that concrete experience can be of direct benefit to Japan."

Speaking to journalists on the flight to Japan, Mr Cameron said: "Part of the job of the Prime Minister is to load up an aeroplane full of business people, large and small, get our exports up, get our investment up, get out there and fly the flag for Britain. That is what I am trying to do this week."

He insisted there was no moral issue with taking arms manufacturers on such trips.

"There are a number of defence manufacturers with us," he said. "I'm completely upfront about that because we do have a very strong defence sector. It accounts for a lot of jobs, we have some of the toughest rules on defence exports anywhere in the world.

"But as these countries, particularly Japan, that have tended in the past to buy only American equipment are opening up, there are opportunities for people like AgustaWestland, who make helicopters, who are on this plane.

"I think that's perfectly responsible and respectable."

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