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UK seeks to forge free trade deals in the wake of Brexit

Australia calls for a free-trade deal with Britain as soon as possible

Published: Updated:

The British government is seeking to reassure Britons that the UK can build strong and profitable trade ties outside the EU, with Australia showing keen interest in forging a fresh post-Brexit deal.

Prime Minister Theresa May said she spoke with Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull, who expressed a desire for a free trade deal with Britain as soon as possible.

“It is very encouraging that one of our closest international partners is already seeking to establish just such a deal,” she said, although Britain can’'t make any new trade arrangements until it actually leaves the EU.

Turnbull told her that he was keen to “open up trading between the two countries as a matter of urgency.”

May described the call “as very encouraging and insisted it showed leaving the European Union could work for Britain.”

Turnbull said: “We did discuss a free-trade agreement ... Clearly our free-trade arrangements with the United Kingdom are with the European community.

“I have had a constructive discussion with the prime minister about that and we look forward to discussions between my trade minister and his counterpart.

“We need to get moving on that quickly ... Australia has been a great beneficiary of free trade and open markets and so has the United Kingdom.”

The British Prime Minister who has said that she will make Brexit “a success”also asked international trade secretary, Liam Fox, to start exploring options on this front.

New overtures

Fox said on Sunday that he was aiming for a Brexit date of January 1, 2019, as London made overtures towards Australia and Canada.

Speaking to Sunday Times , he said: “That's the date I'm working to, which could be brought forward if necessary.”

The international trade secretary also revealed that he had opened talks with Canada on Friday. He was reported to be heading to the United States next week.

Meanwhile, Britain's Brexit minister said the country will keep access to the European single market after it leaves the European Union but that the question is whether tariffs will be imposed on goods and services.

“It will keep its access, but whether it keeps tariff-free access is the issue and I think yes, that is what we are aiming for,” Brexit Secretary David Davis told Sky News on Sunday.

Exposing the uncertainties unleashed by Brexit, the minister in charge of negotiating the divorce said on Sunday that most EU citizens in Britain when it leaves the bloc will be able to stay - but some might have to leave.

Brexit Secretary David Davis dismissed suggestions that the estimated 3 million EU nationals now living in Britain might be forced to leave, telling Sky News that “I want to see a generous settlement for the people here already. They didn't seek this circumstance - we did.”

But he said if there is a surge of new immigrants trying to “beat the deadline” flood into Britain before it leaves the EU, the Conservative government may have to set a cutoff date.

(With the Associated Press, Reuters and AFP)