Ministers yet to visit countries they want to strike trade deals with

Disgraced former defence secretary Liam Fox

Ministers in Liam Fox's trade department still haven't visited a number of countries they want to strike post-Brexit deals with, it has emerged.

Despite having identified them as targets for trade deals once Britain leaves the EU, no minister from the Department for International Trade has visited countries including Ukraine, Algeria, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq since the referendum in 2016.

In addition some, including Egypt, the Philippines, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda have only had once visit. And others, including Vietnam, Argentina and Colombia have had just two.

The figures came in a written answer from trade minister Baroness Fairhead to Lib Dem peer Lord Jones of Cheltenham.

Labour MP Virendra Sharma MP, a champion of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said it showed that "the promise of a post-Brexit 'Global Britain' falls flat against the cold reality of this government's inertia".

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He said: "They've not bothered to visit a load of the countries from whom they seek deals on trade.

"We were told Brexit would mean these lucrative deals falling from the sky like plums from trees. We were even told by Liam Fox that a deal with the EU would be the easiest ever negotiated. All of this is rubbish.

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"This is all the more insulting given we're sitting on a gold mine in terms of our current trading relationship with the EU. That's why we need a people's vote with the option to rethink Brexit and continue with the current bespoke deal we've built up with the EU over the last four decades."

Baroness Fairhead said: "The United Kingdom cannot negotiate its own trade agreements while it is still a member of the European Union. The UK remains committed to supporting ongoing EU negotiations with third countries and will remain a strong advocate for free trade.

"As the UK leaves the EU, the government is seeking to ensure continuity for our existing EU trade agreements, including those with Algeria, Colombia, Egypt, Mexico, South Africa (as part of the Southern African Development Community Economic Partnership Agreement), South Korea and Ukraine, as well as with Vietnam once the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement has been ratified.

"The UK continues to support the implementation of the EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the East Africa Community (EAC), including Kenya. If all EAC partners find a way to sign the EPA, the UK will also seek to replicate the effects of this agreement before we leave the EU.

"The government is talking with a range of key trade partners to explore the best ways of delivering our priorities for our trade and investment relationships. These include working groups with Colombia, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey, and commercial dialogues with Argentina and Thailand.

"We have introduced legislation which enables the UK to put in place a trade preference scheme for developing countries which will, as a minimum, provide the same level of access as the EU's scheme. Ethiopia, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Tanzania and Uganda are currently beneficiaries of the EU scheme."

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