(REUTERS) – Britain and New Zealand agreed on Monday to set up regular trade policy talks to help push for greater global trade liberalisation and reform as Britain leaves the European Union, trade minister Liam Fox said.
Britain, which voted to leave the bloc in June, is keen to court countries outside the EU on trade, but cannot formally agree any deals until it has left the bloc, a process which will take at least two years from when it starts divorce talks.
“In leaving the EU, we have the opportunity to drive even greater openness and put Britain at the forefront of global trade,” Fox said in a statement after meeting New Zealand’s minister of trade, Todd McClay.
“This new trade policy dialogue reflects a strong political commitment from New Zealand and the UK to take the lead in pushing for greater global trade liberalisation and reform and I look forward to working closely with them.”
Prime Minister Theresa May, appointed leader shortly after the June referendum, has said she will trigger the formal divorce procedure — Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty — by the end of March next year.
New Zealand, Canada and other members of the Commonwealth, whose members are mostly former British colonies, have been targeted by British officials as potential areas of growth.
McClay said New Zealand was keen to agree a trade deal.
“The UK is a major trading partner for New Zealand, and we have signalled our interest in a free trade agreement with them when they are in a position to negotiate one independently of the European Union,” he said.
“In the meantime, we hope this dialogue will allow us to develop a better understanding of one another’s trade interests.”
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and William James, editing by Stephen Addison)