Liam Fox has praised the EU-Canada free trade deal (Ceta) which his fellow Leave-backing Cabinet ministers are said to favour as a model for Britain’s relationship with Europe after Brexit.
The International Trade Secretary said UK companies will be able to take immediate advantage of the removal of 98% of tariffs on goods and services when Ceta (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) comes into effect on Thursday.
It comes ahead of Theresa May’s crunch Brexit speech in Florence on Friday and amid reports of Cabinet splits over the potential future trading relationship with the European Union, sparked by Boris Johnson’s explosive article on Britain’s withdrawal last week.
Chancellor Philip Hammond and others are said to favour an “EEA-minus” deal similar to Switzerland’s involving payments for access to the single market, while the likes of Mr Johnson reportedly prefer a “Ceta-plus” arrangement involving a simple free trade deal like Canada’s.
As Ceta came into force, Dr Fox echoed the hopes of the Prime Minister and her Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau that the UK and Canada could use it as a blueprint for a future trade deal between the two countries, but did not mention any potential relationship with the EU.
The International Trade Secretary said: “Ceta opens the door for UK companies to trade easily and cheaply with a valuable market in which there is considerable demand for British products, skills and expertise.
“It is also an important blueprint for what our future trading relationship with Canada could look like.
“As an international economic department, we will help UK companies to make the most of this boost to bilateral trade and lay solid foundations for our trading ties with Canada.”
Ceta will cut duties on 92% of food and drink products to zero, including beef, cheese and marmalade, and spirits such as gin, vodka and whiskies.
Almost all tariffs on manufactured products such as cars will also be eliminated, the Department for International Trade (DIT) said.
Canadian international trade minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, said: “Ceta sets new and progressive standards for all trading nations.
“As long standing trading partners, Canada and the UK remain steadfast in their joint commitment to the benefits of global free trade.
“I am confident that with Ceta, we have set the stage for exciting opportunities for British and Canadian companies alike.”
Britain exported more than £7 billion-worth of goods and services to Canada in 2015 and Ceta has the potential to boost future exports by 29%, according to DIT.
Ministers are seeking to continue existing trade and investment relationships between the EU and “third” countries as Britain leaves the bloc.