U.K.'s Fox Sees U.S. Among First Post-Brexit Trade Deals

(Bloomberg) -- Britain is likely to forge its first post-Brexit trade deals with the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said on Sunday, declaring his department up to the task.

Britain is working to adopt about 40 free trade agreements that it’s currently party to as a member of the European Union and wants to have them in place before the U.K. leaves, Fox said at an event on the sidelines of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, England.

U.K.'s Fox Sees U.S. Among First Post-Brexit Trade Deals

“That’s particularly important for Switzerland and South Korea,” Fox said. “When it comes to the others -- which the first three look like the United States, Australia and New Zealand -- again, we have a lot of goodwill there,” he said.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government wants to preserve the trade ties Britain already benefits from as a member of the EU, while also striking new deals. Brexit campaigners pledged that forging profitable new trading relations across the globe would be the prize for leaving Europe, and ministers including Fox are keen to keep to their word.

Britain can’t sign new trade accords before it leaves the EU in 2019 and the two-year transitional period May is seeking after that would also restrict new deals. The government says it wants to line up agreements that it can then sign when it’s free to do so.

Fox said his department has had to ramp up hiring to complete all the necessary work on replicating the existing deals, and that negotiating three new agreements at any one time "is a lot to undertake."

Britain hasn’t negotiated its own trade deals since joining the EU more than four decades ago. Because of that lack of experience, the U.S. may not be the best country for Britain to start its post-Brexit trade agreements with, according to Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. "The U.S. trade representative is one of the best-oiled machines in the world," he said in August. President Donald Trump has said he would do a deal with the U.K.

Fox said U.S. trade discussions are advancing on four strands: 

  • Ensuring continuity with current agreements, such as Open Skies, which governs air traffic 
  • Making quick gains in terms of trade liberalization while the U.K. is still in the EU
  • Scoping out a future U.S.-U.K. trade deal
  • A joint effort to make the World Trade Organization work better