SINGAPORE - Britain hopes to wrap up the accession process to join one of the world's largest trading blocs - the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) - by next year.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "The hope is that over the course of this year and next year, we can make substantial progress, possibly even conclude it."
Mr Raab made the comments on Thursday (June 24) at a virtual media briefing in Singapore, the last leg of his three-day visit to South-east Asia that included stops in Vietnam and Cambodia.
The visit formally launched the accession negotiations.
Britain applied to join the CPTPP partnership in February. The existing members of the trade alliance are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
In Singapore, he met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan.
Mr Raab said: "CPTPP members currently have a combined GDP of £9 trillion ($16.9 trillion), a value which is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years.
"In terms of future growth markets, like digital areas where the UK is particularly interested in and has a comparative advantage, it's going to be an important agreement for the UK," he said.
The Foreign Secretary also said he hopes to quickly conclude the ongoing talks for a digital economy agreement with Singapore, and said his meeting with Dr Balakrishnan covered this area as well as other topics.
"I think we should put rocket boosters under this because both the UK and Singapore are global leaders in the digital economy," he added.
He said the digital trade agreement, in addition to the free trade deal that Britain already has with Singapore, will set a good precedent for the other trade deals that Britain wants to do in the region.
Mr Raab said the collaboration with Singapore extends to other areas such as science, technology and public health.
"We have been discussing as well the prospects for a genomic sequencing hub in Singapore," he added.
Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Dr Balakrishnan welcomed Britain's interest to deepen its engagement of the region through Asean as well as the CPTPP.
Both ministers also exchanged views on the Covid-19 situation, and agreed to strengthen cooperation on health and the safe resumption of international travel, it added.
PM Lee, after his meeting with Mr Raab, said in a Facebook post that Britain is a close friend with whom Singapore has deep and longstanding ties.
"We have a shared interest in upholding free trade, multilateralism, and a rules-based international order. We are also expanding our cooperation, including on the digital economy and climate change."
A British High Commission statement issued on June 24 said Britain was keen to deepen its cooperation with Singapore and to galvanise climate action across the Indo-Pacific region in support of setting net zero ambitions ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow this November.
Singapore, which like Britain, is also a global financial hub with strong green finance credentials, has agreed to work with Norway on resolving carbon market issues ahead of the summit, it said.
Mr Raab also met Singaporean business representatives to discuss how supply chains can be modernised through digitalisation.
He said he is looking forward to working with all CPTPP member nations to try and conclude the UK's accession as swiftly and as carefully as possible.
British trade with CPTPP member countries grew by 8 per cent annually between 2016 and 2019 and its exports to the 11-member group is estimated to increase by 65 per cent to £37 billion by 2030.