Britain is in talks to join a trans-Pacific trade group to boost exports after the UK leaves the European Union according to reports.
The government is exploring becoming a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to stimulate exports after Brexit next March and has held informal discussions with the group. If the proposals go ahead Britain would be the first member of the trade agreement which does not have borders on the Pacific Ocean or the South China Sea.
Liam Fox’s department for international trade is believed to be developing the proposals to join the group which is regrouping after it lost the United States, its largest member, when President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement last year.
The 11 remaining member states include Australia, Mexico, Singapore and Canada.
Trade minister Greg Hands told the Financial Times there was no geographical restriction on Britain joining trade groups. “Nothing is excluded in all of this,” he said. “With these kind of plurilateral relationships, there doesn’t have to be any geographical restriction.”
A department for international trade spokeswoman said: “We have set up 14 trade working groups across 21 countries to explore the best ways of progressing our trade and investment relationships across the world. It is early days, but as our trade policy minister has pointed out, we are not excluding future talks on plurilateral relationships.”
However it is likely that any agreement would have to wait until TPP has been revised after the US left and following the UK settling its Brexit departure with the EU.
The UK is not allowed to make trade deals before it formally leaves the EU. One TPP official said it was too early to discuss any UK plans to join it, according to the FT.
Combined spending from the 11 TPP countries make up less than 8% of the UK’s export market, with Japan taking just 1.6% of UK exports, compared with the 11% bought by Germany.
The plan was criticised by the shadow trade minister Barry Gardiner.
He said: “It is not the main event and at the moment the government is making a hash of that.”
Lib Dem Tim Farron said: “This plan smacks of desperation. These people want us to leave a market on our doorstep and join a different, smaller one on the other side of the world. It’s all pie in the sky thinking.”