January 23, 2019 / 12:06 AM / 4 months ago

Trade minister Fox to press trade ministers over replicating EU agreements

LONDON (Reuters) - British trade minister Liam Fox will use a two-day trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos to meet ministers from around the world to discuss rolling over existing EU trade agreements after Britain leaves the bloc.

FILE PHOTO: Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox arrives in Downing Street, London, Britain, December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

With little time left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on March 29, there is no agreement in London on how and even whether it should leave the world’s biggest trading bloc, and a growing chance of a “no-deal” exit with no provisions to soften the economic shock.

Fox has said he hopes to replicate around 40 EU free trade agreements with third countries by the time Britain leaves the bloc, but the Financial Times reported last week that none would be ready by the end of March.

The British government has since signed agreements with Australia and New Zealand. Fox said there was “a pipeline of agreements” to be signed in the coming weeks.

“I will be meeting with my counterparts in key countries as we look to finalise continuity trade agreements to ensure our exporters do not face disruption as we prepare to leave to the EU,” Fox said in a statement.

But he told the BBC on Wednesday that some deals wouldn’t be in place by March because trade partners were underestimating the chance of a no-deal Brexit.

“No deal is a genuine possibility, and they need to prepare for that, because if they don’t prepare, there could be a break, even if it’s a temporary one, in the trading relationship that we have on those countries on a preferential basis,” he said.

His department said his meetings in Davos would include ministers from South Korea, Hong Kong, Canada, Colombia and Israel. He will also meet investors and host a round table of global chief executives.

The department also said telecoms firm BT (BT.L) would announce this week that it has been granted new domestic licences to operate in China following talks between the British and Chinese governments.

“With my international economic department already working on our independent trade policy after Brexit, we will be able to place the UK firmly at the heart of the world’s fastest growing regions,” Fox said.

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, additional reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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