China and Britain are trying to secure a “top-notch” free trade agreement after the UK leaves the European Union, China has said.
Zhong Shan, the country’s commerce minister, confirmed talks with British international trade minister Liam Fox had set the stage for an agreement that would be mutually beneficial for both countries.
A statement from China’s commerce ministry said that the two countries agreed to “actively explore the possibility of discussing a top-notch free trade agreement between the two sides after Brexit”.
The move has the full backing of Eurosceptic MPs keen to boost investment and expand trade in services in a post-Brexit world.
China is also in need of allies in its fierce trade dispute with the United States. President Trump’s administration has imposed tariffs on Chinese imports and has accused the second-largest economy in the world of stealing American intellectual property and discriminating against foreign firms.
As the Brexit date of 29 March 2019 draws closer, Britain has tried to reassure Chinese companies that it is fully open for business.
Chancellor Philip Hammond initiated talks of a deal during a visit to China in June.
“As a firm supporter of trade liberalisation and a free market, the United Kingdom is China’s long-term trusted partner,” he wrote in a Chinese financial magazine at the time.
“Britain is committed to promoting free and open trade, and as Britain and its European cooperation partners form a new relationship, we will deepen our relations with other regions around the world.”
However, formal talks cannot begin until Britain officially leaves the EU and could take years to conclude.
Mr Fox recently said that Britain aimed to boost exports to 35 per cent of gross domestic product after leaving the EU.
Mr Zhong said today that he hoped Britain would use the opportunity of a major import fair in November in Shanghai, which President Xi Jinping is overseeing, to expand its exports to China.
Mr Fox, along with Prince Andrew, will be tasked with leading the UK’s delegation to the import fair.