Britain says it's back as major trade force as it signs Singapore deal

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Britain said it was re-emerging as a major trade force as it signed a free trade deal with wealthy city-state Singapore on Thursday, its latest agreement globally as it prepares to end its transition out of the European Union on Dec. 31.

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The deal signing between Britain’s trade minister Liz Truss and her Singaporean counterpart comes as leaders from Britain and the EU tried to seal a new trade pact and avert what some fear will be a chaotic end to the five-year Brexit process.

Britain is Singapore’s top destination for direct investment in Europe and is among its largest trading partners there. Total bilateral trade between the two countries was valued at $13.5 billion in 2019, a fraction of about $1 trillion in annual trade at stake in Britain’s talks with the EU.

The agreement with the former British colony, which gained independence in 1965, largely mirrors the city-state’s existing deal with the European Union, which Britain formally left at the end of January.

“Fifty five years after Singapore’s independence, the UK is re-emerging as a fully independent nation, and a major force in global trade,” Truss said during the signing ceremony.

Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines, she said Britain had signed 56 deals previously covered under EU agreements, and was working on a few others by the end of the year including one with Vietnam it hoped to strike “very shortly”.

Meanwhile in Brussels, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union’s chief executive have given themselves until the end of the weekend to seal a trade pact hindered by persistent rifts including fisheries, agreeing ways to settle future trade disputes and protecting against price dumping.

Failure to agree new rules would snarl borders, shock financial markets and sow chaos through supply chains in a world already grappling with the economic cost of COVID-19.

Asked about the EU negotiations, Truss said Britain was working hard to get a “good” deal but would not do it at any cost and “was ready for every eventuality”.

Truss said Singapore had also joined other members of the CPTPP, formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, in backing Britain’s plans to apply to join the trading bloc early next year.

The CPTPP is a free trade agreement that links Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

($1 = 1.3367 Singapore dollars)

Reporting by Chen Lin and Joe Brock; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Kim Coghill and Lincoln Feast.