OSAKA • Britain is looking at ways to replicate the trade deals that the European Union has with countries outside the bloc when it exits the EU in March 2019, Prime Minister Theresa May said yesterday.
The freedom to strike new trade deals independently of the EU has been highlighted by the government as a major benefit of Brexit.
But businesses have repeatedly voiced concern about how existing trade relationships will work after Britain has left the bloc.
"There's obviously a number of trade deals that the EU has with other countries, and we are looking at the possibility of those being able to be brought over into, certainly initially, trade deals with the United Kingdom," she told reporters. "I think we will give businesses certainty, which is what business wants at the point at which we leave."
She also said Britain would later be able to change the terms of such trade deals. "Once we're outside the European Union, even if we start on the basis of an existing trade deal that a country has with the EU, it will be up to the United Kingdom and that country if we wish to renegotiate and change those terms in the future."
The EU has trade deals with external countries like Switzerland and South Korea, and is currently finalising its own deal with Japan.
Mrs May is also expected to focus on pushing forward with plans for a Britain-Japan free trade agreement.
But analysts said there would not likely be much progress until Japan and the EU wrap up a nearly finalised trade deal, and details of Brexit are worked out.
"You cannot start official talks about such an idea until Britain leaves the EU," said Mr Osamu Tanaka, a senior economist at Daiichi Life Research Institute.
Mrs May's three-day trip to Japan started yesterday in Osaka, where she met Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada.
She then moved on to Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, where she held unofficial talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over dinner. The two leaders will hold a summit today in Tokyo.
Prior to the summit, Mrs May is scheduled to visit a Maritime Self-Defence Force base in Yokosuka, near Tokyo.
The two leaders will also be discussing issues tied to global terrorism and regional security, after North Korea sharply escalated regional tensions by launching a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday. She is also meeting Emperor Akihito tomorrow before wrapping up her trip.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS