Britain’s international trade minister Liam Fox believes the UK’s trading relationships post-Brexit will be “a world beyond Europe” looking to the East, on the day the European Union announced the world’s biggest free-trade deal with Japan.
In a speech giving at think tank Policy Exchange on Friday, Mr Fox said the UK had “always been an awkward [EU] member, unsuited to ever present union”.
Mr Fox’s said the UK’s priority in future trade policy is the liberalisation of trade in services.
“Liberalisation will drive wider international trade”, said Mr Fox, adding that the UK’s greatest strength was its service sector.
The international trade minister also criticised US President Donald Trump’s trade dispute with China as a “mirage” risking “decades of progress” at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“The WTO may be imperfect and some of its rules may be outdated”, admitted Mr Fox.
“The whole regulatory environment at the WTO needs to change”.
Mr Fox added that he was “committed to multilateral solutions” across the WTO.
“True multilateralism will maintain the gold standard…to lower costs and non-tariff measures”.
Meanwhile, the world’s biggest free-trade deal comes into force today.
The EU and Japan deal removes 1 billion euros worth of tariffs, serving a combined 600 million people.
Mr Fox said the UK played a deep part in negotiations for the trade deal, but appeared to downplay the economic benefits of remaining in the single market as “relatively small”.
"Europe and Japan are sending a message to the world about the future of open and fair trade," EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement.
"Our agreement shows that trade is about more than quotas and tariffs, or millions and billions. It is about values, principles and fairness."
Brexit will see Britain pull out of EU-Japan that it was heavily involved in negotiating, though Japan has said Britain would have to negotiate a future trade deal from scratch.
Negotiating free trade deals with countries across Africa and Asia was a central theme to many Brexit-supporting politicians in Britain.
In his speech, Mr Fox the UK pivot to “new and established partnerships”, in particular China and India.