The government is stepping up its efforts to woo new trading partners ahead of Brexit, with Liam Fox jetting into China today as his first working trip of the year.
The international trade secretary will meet the Chinese vice minister of commerce Zhong Shan, as well as Ma Minzhe, chairman of insurance giant Ping An, during a two-stage visit to Beijing and Shenzhen. He will also promote the government-backed ‘Festival of Innovation’ taking place in Hong Kong later this year, which will showcase the latest technology from the UK and Asia.
The trip comes as Brexit negotiations finally open up to transition, before reaching trade - it is hoped - in March.
Although nothing formal can be agreed before the UK leaves the EU in 2019, the government is keen to put the groundwork for future free trade deals in so that a deal can be signed quickly thereafter. China is the UK’s fifth largest trading partner in the world, with trade between the countries estimated at £59.1bn.
However, the government has been criticised for failing to find any real sign of support from would be trading partners so far, amid concerns that a new free trade deal will take many years to conclude.
In September, Open Britain criticised Brexit secretary David Davis for "delusional wishful thinking" over his claims that deals could be agreed before "anything changed", while Fox's own claims that a post-Brexit trade deal would be the "easiest in human history" is routinely mocked by members of the opposition.