UK signs post-Brexit free trade deal with Singapore

LONDON — The U.K. has signed a free trade deal with Singapore covering trade worth 17.6 billion pounds ($23.4 billion,) the latest in a series of trade pacts that Britain is seeking to secure around the world post-Brexit.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, who was in Singapore for the ceremony, said today the deal was the second-biggest that Britain has signed in the Asia-Pacific region.

The agreement came as British and European Union officials make a final push to break a deadlock over the U.K.’s future trade relationship with the bloc. The two sides emerged from a Wednesday meeting saying significant differences remain in the way.

Britain left the EU on Jan. 31, but remains in its economic structures until a transition period ends on Dec.31. The Singapore deal largely mirrors one that the Asian city-state already has with the EU, and effectively allows trade to continue as before after Jan. 1.

Truss said the pact with Singapore “secures certainty” for businesses and is “further proof we can succeed as an independent trading nation.”

Singapore is Britain’s largest trading partner in Southeast Asia. Truss is also expected to sign a similar deal with Vietnam to ensure trade continues on the same terms in the new year.

Officials said the two deals bring Britain a step closer to joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a growing regional trade bloc. Joining that agreement would “provide British businesses with an unparalleled gateway to the Pacific region,” Truss said.

Truss and her Singaporean counterpart, Chan Chun Sing, also said they plan to start talks for a “Digital Economy Agreement,” which aims to boost British digital trade and partnerships with Asia.

“This is an important part of our vision for a Global Britain that sits at the center of a network of deals with dynamic nations across Asia Pacific and the Americas as a global hub for services and technology trade,” Truss said in a statement.

Britain has recently agreed trade deals with Japan and Canada that allow the U.K. to continue trading under much of the same terms as current EU agreements after the Brexit transition period ends. It is also negotiating free trade agreements with countries such as Australia that do not have currently have EU trade deals.