UK trade minister outlines post-Brexit free trade objectives

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New UK international trade secretary Liam Fox has reaffirmed the country's commitment to free trade during a visit to the US.

The UK will remain as committed as ever to the principles of global, free trade even after it leaves the European Union, according to the newly-installed international trade secretary.

Liam Fox, who took up the role earlier this month as part of new prime minister Theresa May's Cabinet reshuffle, has paid a visit to the US to discuss the country's post-Brexit plans and calm fears that the victory of the Leave campaign in last month's EU membership referendum will lead to the UK withdrawing from the international trade community.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Mr Fox confirmed that the new-look Conservative government is still debating the right time to trigger Article 50, the legislative mechanism by which the UK can formally commence the two-year process of exiting the EU.

However, he said it is likely to happen early next year, as this would allow the country to have a clear understanding of its relationship with the EU before the next scheduled general election takes place in 2020.

The minister also confirmed the country will most likely seek to enter a free trade agreement with the EU once it has exited the bloc, rather than opting for a closer customs union that would potentially restrict Britain's ability to negotiate lower tariffs with other trading partners.

Mr Fox said: "The first thing is to dispel the idea that Britain leaving the EU was somehow an anti-free market decision. In fact, it was the reverse: in my view, it was about Britain becoming a much more outward-looking country."

Although informal discussions with world leaders have already begun, the UK is legally prohibited from signing trade agreements with other countries while it remains part of the EU. US trade representative Michael Froman said Britain's future relationship with the EU needs to be made clearer before a new UK-US trade pact can be arranged.

He said: "As a practical matter, it is not possible to meaningfully advance separate trade and investment negotiations with the UK until some of the basic issues around the future EU-UK relationship have been worked out."