Sunak says “good and constructive” progress is being made in talks over Britain signing a bumper post-Brexit trade pact with Pacific nations.
The deal – which could be rubber-stamped within weeks – will be worth tens of billions of pounds for UK businesses.
It would be the second major breakthrough for the Prime Minister after his post-Brexit pact with the EU on Northern Ireland.
Officials are on the verge of reaching an agreement in principle to accede to the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The UK first applied to join the £9 trillion bloc in early 2021 and accession is a major part of its wider post-Brexit foreign policy shift toward the Indo-Pacific.
Members include Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Chile, Vietnam and Malaysia.
A report by the Centre for Policy Studies last year said joining the CPTPP could boost Britain’s GDP by up to £20 billion per year.
Speaking during a visit to San Diego to agree to the next phase of a new Pacific defence pact with the USA and Australia, Mr Sunak said: “Look with all these trade negotiations I’ve said before It’s important that we get them right.
“Rather than – we shouldn’t sacrifice quality for speed. I’ve always said that about all trade negotiations.
“But we’ve been having good and constructive conversations and it’s right that we continue to do so and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to proceed that’s been something that we’ve been keen to do – we have to make sure that’s on terms that are acceptable to us and .. those conversations have made good progress.”
Mr Sunak wouldn’t be drawn on when an agreement could be sealed.
“They have made good progress but again with all these things we shouldn’t set ourselves arbitrary deadlines we should just make sure that these things work in British interests,” he added.
Key sticking points as talks have progressed include CPTPP member Canada’s bid to get Britain to drop a ban on hormone-treated beef, something UK ministers have stressed will not happen.
There has also been a push from Canada and Mexico for access to Britain’s agricultural market on a par with that granted to Australia and New Zealand in their own bilateral trade deals with the country.
CPTPP accession would be seen as a major win for Mr Sunak, who produced a landmark deal earlier this month after long-running talks with the EU over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland.
Japan, which has been leading the UKs accession process, took a keen interest in the negotiations because the Northern Ireland protocol – which introduced checks on trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland post-Brexit – is baked into the UK’s trade deals with Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
When the UK accedes to CPTPP, the Northern Ireland protocol and Britain’s trade relationship with the EU will also become part of the deal. Changes agreed with the EU will have knock-on effects on trade with bloc members.
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