PM Theresa May and Dr Liam Fox have visited China this week in an effort to sketch out a vision for the future of UK-China trade post Brexit. The Prime Minister and President Xi Jinping agreed that a joint trade and investment review would mark the first step towards an ‘ambitious’ post-Brexit deal.
Though UK-China trade is currently worth £59bn a year, the visit will be seen as a stepping stone towards an even stronger trade relationship, with the UK currently lagging behind Germany in terms of exports to China.
Mr Jinping said that China’s markets could be opened to the UK following Brexit, including in beef, dairy and other food products.
£9bn worth of deals signed by 50-strong delegation
Accompanied by a 50-strong business delegation, Mrs May suggested that up to £9bn worth in business deals are being signed during the three-day trip. Deals signed included a £750m deal for BP, while Chinese e-commerce sellers are signing up to £2bn worth of UK goods for a period of the next two years, according to International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
Some time away from a free trade agreement
Nonetheless, Dr Fox was keen to point out that a trade deal with China may still be “some time away”.
He is quoted in the Guardian as saying:
“We haven’t got to Brexit yet of course and that may be some time away if we’ve got an implementation period, but what we’re doing is to ensure that when we have economic freedoms we can take advantage of them.
“We’ve set up a trade and investment review with China to take a look at the options we have in terms of our trading relationship and agreements once we have left the EU.”
But we can increase trade with China today
Indeed, echoing the key message we’ve given to businesses that they shouldn’t wait on free trade agreements before trying to start increasing trade into markets like China, Dr Fox also said that companies can still increase trade with China while the UK remains in the EU.
“Self-evidently, we can do it in a customs union because we can do it now while we are still in the EU,” he said.
Dr Fox told Sky News that the UK could increase trade in the short term by opening markets for UK agricultural produce such including beef. A ban on beef exports to China from the UK still exists from the times of the BSE crisis. It has been suggested that this ban could be lifted in the next six months.