Liam Fox launches bid for US trade deal and to join Pacific trade group even before Brexit is completed

Public quizzed on signing up to a Trans-Pacific Partnership - and an agreement with Donald Trump

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 22 July 2018 00:07 BST
What could the sticking points be in the Brexit trade deal?

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Liam Fox today launches an audacious bid to kickstart a US trade deal and membership of a Pacific trade group, even before Brexit has been completed.

The public will be asked its views on signing up to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – made up of 11 countries bordering the Pacific Ocean or the South China Sea.

Consultations will also be launched on agreements with the US, Australia and New Zealand, ahead of the international trade secretary flying to Washington for trade talks.

Mr Fox will hail the move as a “hugely historic moment for the British people who voted to take back control”, adding: “The government is delivering exactly that on trade.”

However, the initiative comes before parliament or, it is thought, the cabinet has discussed potential membership of the CPTPP.

It is certain to provoke criticism that ministers’ efforts should be focused closer to home, on the tortuous efforts to resolve its future trading arrangements with the EU.

In reality, other countries are unlikely to commit to deals with the UK until a post-Brexit trade agreement has been reached – and, legally, the UK cannot sign any before it leaves the EU.

Furthermore, on his explosive visit to the UK this month, Donald Trump said Theresa May’s move to stick to the EU’s rule book on goods and agriculture would “kill” any chances of a UK-US trade deal.

Nevertheless, the idea remains hugely controversial because of fears the US will force the UK to lower food quality standards and open up the NHS to its private healthcare giants.

An attempt by MPs to win a veto over new trade deals was defeated by the government – leaving parliament with less scrutiny powers than MPs in other countries, critics protested.

Joining the CPTPP – which was set up in March, but not is not yet ratified – is expected to be a less protracted process than negotiating individual trade deals with the member countries.

Its members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Mr Fox will say the consultations, available online, show the UK’s determination to make the most of the UK’s ability to set its own trade policy for the first time in 40 years.

Ministers and officials from his department will take part in a series of events across the UK, to hear directly from businesses, local politicians, voluntary groups and the general public.

Mr Fox – who claimed the US president’s dismissal of prospects for a trade deal was based on a misunderstanding – will meet Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, for talks in Washington.

“For the first time in over 40 years, the UK will be able to determine who we trade with and the public will have a say on the terms of these trading agreements,” Mr Fox said.

“We are seeking to put the UK at the heart of the world’s fastest growing regions agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“It’s also why I’m making the case for a trade deal with our single largest trading partner the USA and will continue do the same with the New Zealand and Australia.”

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