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Lord Liddle told peers Boris Johnson was prioritising trade deals with “not terribly big benefits” while neglecting the UK’s relationship with the EU. He said Brussels would be the country’s biggest trading partner “for decades to come” as he called for the UK to prioritise relations with the continent.
He said: “As far as I can see, the Government’s trade policy is focused very much on the Asia-Pacific region.
“It brings benefits, but not terribly big benefits by comparison with the overwhelming importance of our trading relationship with the European Union.
“Does the minister and the Government’s trade policy recognise that fact and that that will be the case for decades to come?”
Brexit minister Lord Frost defended the UK’s global outlook as he said trade with Asian nations is set to grow in the years to come.
He said: “I’m not sure I would entirely agree with the underlying judgement from my noble lord.
“Our trade with the EU has been falling fairly consistently for a decade or two now. Our trade with Asia is rising.
“I think most people think that is likely to continue to be the case and the strategic emphasis on Asia is right.”
Reiterating the UK’s approach to trade negotiations with the EU last year he said ministers had worked hard to ensure Britain remained free to do deals with other countries across the globe.
“The trade and co-operation agreement we have agreed with the European Union does not require us or the EU to align its rules with the other party,” he said.
“This ensures the UK is in control of our own legislation and that we are free to make other free trade agreements around the world.”
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Britain has signed trade deals with 67 countries as well as the EU trade agreement in the past two years.
Further deals are expected in the coming months with the UK in advanced negotiations with New Zealand on a free trade agreement and talks on pacts with India and the US set to begin shortly.
The UK is also in talks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The trade bloc is made up of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam and is one of the fastest-growing free trade areas in the world.
The CPTPP has been tipped to overtake the EU in economic value in the next 10 years.
CPTPP countries accounted for £110 billion worth of UK trade in 2019 and trade with the bloc has grown annually since 2016.
The Department for International Trade believes exports to countries in the Asia-Pacific bloc will increase by 65 percent, around £37billion by 2030.
The International Trade Secretary has said gaining membership would be a “glittering post-Brexit prize that I want us to seize”.