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It will be “relatively easy” for the UK to adopt the EU’s existing free trade agreements with new countries after it leaves the union, the secretary of state for international trade has said.
Speaking to the international trade select committee, Liam Fox said the government would prioritise securing agreements with Korea and Switzerland – the most valuable of the EU’s 40 external free trade agreements – but said he does not expect to encounter many difficulties in adapting more agreements.
Mr Fox, who last year heralded the emergence of a “post-geography trading world”, said:
We’ve made it very clear to countries that we would like to see a transition of their agreements to a UK agreement at the point that we leave the EU. So far we have not yet had a country that didn’t want to do that. That is a lot easier as a process than negotiating a new FTA because it simply means changes to the current treaty framework, in other words removing references to EU institutions for example but also disaggregating any quotas that exist within that and we think from our initial contacts with countries that they’re likely to do so.
Mr Fox also defended a recent press release from his department which claimed to have secured £16bn of foreign direct investment since the Brexit vote, but which an FT report showed counted several previously-announced schemes.
He described the release as “an antidote to the idea that people are not going to be investing in the United Kingdom”, adding:
I don’t regret it at all, I think the more good news we give to the public the better. It counters some of the black propaganda that comes from those who want to undermine the referendum.