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Britain is a major force once again, Liz Truss says, as UK signs free trade deal in Singapore

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Liz Truss said Britain was re-emerging as a major trade force as she signed a free trade deal with Singapore on Thursday, the UK’s latest agreement ahead of the departure from the European Union on Dec. 31.

The deal signed by the Trade Secretary and her Singaporean counterpart comes as Boris Johnson and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen tried to seal a new trade pact and avert what some fear will be a chaotic end to the five-year Brexit process.

The agreement stuck in Singapore largely mirrors a standing agreement the state has with the EU.

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

“Together, we’re paving the way for a brighter future, rich in economic potential and opportunity.”

Singapore, a wealthy city-state of 5.7m people, counts Britain as its third-largest trading partner for goods and second largest for services, and its top investment destination in Europe.

Total bilateral trade between the two countries was valued at $13.5bn in 2019, according to Singapore’s official figures.

The deal removes tariffs, gives both countries access to each other’s markets in services and cuts non-tariff barriers in electronics, cars and vehicle parts, pharmaceutical products, medical devices and renewable energy generation, the ministry said.

Duties will be eliminated by November 2024, the same timeline as the pact between the EU and Singapore.

The agreement “provides British businesses a platform to access opportunities in the region through Singapore”, Trade Minister Chan Chun Sing said as he signed the deal with Ms Truss.

“Beyond the significant benefits to our respective businesses, the (deal) is a strong statement against protectionism and nativism,” Mr Chan said, adding it will be “crucial in ensuring a strong and resilient post-pandemic recovery for the world”.

Britain signed its first major post-Brexit trade deal with Japan in October, but Thursday’s agreement is its first with a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The 10-country bloc is home to 650m people and – prior to the pandemic-induced downturn – had enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years.

Britain formally left the European Union at the end of January and has spent the year negotiating its future relationship with Brussels and striking trade agreements with major economies such as Japan and Canada.

Mr Johnson and  Mrs Von der Leyen have given themselves until the end of the weekend to seal a new trade pact after failing to overcome persistent rifts.

Failure to agree new rules to govern everything from trade to energy ties would snarl borders, shock financial markets and sow chaos through supply chains in a world already grappling with the economic cost of Covid-19.

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