UK having informal trade talks with at least 12 countries

International trade secretary says ‘dozens of countries’ are preparing to expand trading links with UK once it has left EU. The UK is already discussing informal trade deals with at least 12 countries, despite being notionally prevented from striking deals while still a member of the EU, according to Liam Fox’s international trade department.

Fox said ministers, who had visited 55 countries, were “discussing the possible shape of new agreements once we have left the EU” and the department was conducting trade audits of key markets in order to identify potential pitfalls.

“We need maximum freedom to achieve this, which is why the prime minister was right to rule out full membership of the EU customs union,” Fox said.

“We have taken our first steps to establishing ourselves as the champions of free trade and taking our place, once again, as one of the greatest open trading nations in the world.

In his piece for the Telegraph, Fox said “dozens of countries” were preparing to expand their trading links to the UK. “As the foreign secretary discovered when he visited the United States, the UK is no longer ‘at the back of the queue’ with our largest single trading partner,” he wrote.

The Telegraph named New Zealand and the Gulf Co-operation Council as two potential new trade alliances being informally investigated. New Zealand’s prime minister, Bill English, visited the UK last week, and Theresa May recently addressed a meeting of the GCC in Bahrain, attended by all six Gulf nations.

On Wednesday, Prof Ted Malloch, tipped to be Donald Trump’s ambassador to the EU, said he believed a trade deal could be done “with the right people at the right level, within 90 days”.

Malloch told the Guardian he did not think the formal prohibition on a trade deal being sealed until the end of the two-year article 50 process would make a difference to that. “There’s nothing to stop a group of people going to a resort in Virginia and hammering this out, which isn’t a public affair,” he said. “We are talking politics here.”

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