Pro-Brexit Fox Says Only Fools Would Rule U.K. Out of TPP Pact

  • Liam Fox sees potential for future commerce deals with China
  • Says ‘pessimists’ are biggest threat to U.K. from Brexit
U.K.'s Liam Fox on Future Trade Pacts, China, TPP

The U.K. will explore all options for future trade deals around the world after Brexit including a tie-up with countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said.

The minister confirmed that the U.K. will look at joining a sweeping 12-nation pact better known as the TPP that stalled after President Donald Trump pulled out the U.S. last year.

Read about where TPP stand today and why Trump decided to back out of it

“We will want to explore all the opportunities,” Fox said in an interview with Bloomberg Television during a trip to Beijing on Wednesday. “I would say that we would be foolish not to look at all the potential.”

Fox explained that the TPP agreement would need to be finalized first, adding that the issue isn’t the U.K.’s top priority as it seeks to negotiate its withdrawal from the European Union. Even so, he said “it would be quite wrong” to rule out the opportunities there.

Fox’s comments come as Prime Minister Theresa May seeks to accelerate progress of the Brexit negotiations. After reaching an agreement on the divorce terms in December, both sides are poised to discuss a two-year transition to help businesses adapt to Brexit -- with the U.K. seeking to finalize an ambitious trade deal with the bloc by October.

Small Slice

Pacific trade group countries accounted for less than a tenth of U.K goods exports in 2016

Source: Office for National Statistics Pink Book

Note: TPP total excludes Brunei, Peru and Vietnam, figures for which are unavailable

As Britain’s leading trade envoy, Fox is responsible for designing the map of commercial links the country will seek to open once it leaves the EU and is free to strike its own deals around the world in 2019 -- when the U.K. is formally out of the bloc.

In the interview, he said he wanted to boost the trade and investment relationship with China, with a focus on services and technology. He cautioned that a fully-fledged free-trade agreement seemed unlikely in the short-term.

“I think in terms of a classical FTA with China, that would still be somewhere down the road for us, but of course we want to improve our trading position with China as much as we can,” Fox said.

Beyond securing an open trade deal with the EU, the U.K.’s priority will be negotiating the extension of the EU’s 40 agreements with other countries, such as Canada, South Korea and Switzerland in time for Brexit, Fox said. “We need to do a lot of groundwork.”

An early backer of Brexit and active Leave campaigner in the 2016 referendum, Fox said warnings of economic disaster for the U.K. from Brexit had been wrong. “The biggest risk with Brexit are those people who are self-defeating pessimists talking down Britain’s opportunities,” he said.

— With assistance by Haze Fan, and Andrew Atkinson

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