UK Trade Secretary Liz Truss has said post-Brexit trade deals could transform the north-east of England into a booming "Singapore-on-Tyne".
Truss said 27 years of European Union (EU) membership had left the UK stuck "in the trade slow lane” and northern cities like Newcastle upon Tyne could become thriving hubs of the tech sector.
“This is about Singapore-on-Tyne, it's about turbocharging our successful industries that we've already got in parts of the country like the North East," Truss told the Daily Telegraph on Thursday. “Newcastle is a hub of computer gaming firms – Assassin’s Creed was developed there – but at the moment there are lots of barriers to selling into foreign markets.”
British trade with non-EU countries has grown ten times faster than the UK's commerce with the 27 remaining members of the block over the past decade. More than half of British exports in both goods and services now go outside the EU.
In Tokyo on Friday, Truss and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi signed the finalised trade deal between the two countries. The British minister, who called the signing a “landmark moment for Britain", presented her Japanese colleague with a wry gift of a jar of Stilton cheese from posh London department store Fortnum and Mason.
Abolishing tariffs on the pungent blue-veined English delicacy had been a sticking point of talks towards the deal over the summer.
"This is the first new free trade deal to be agreed since the UK once again became an independent trading nation," Truss added.
"This is a manifestation of the determination of Japan and the United Kingdom to carry on vigorously promoting free trade,” Motegi told reporters, stressing that the agreement had taken only four-and-a-half months to negotiate.
The UK is also reportedly close to inking trade deals with Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru, with Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia also in Westminster's sights.
Talks on a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the EU almost collapsed last week. But European Commission envoy Michel Barnier returned to London on Thursday after conceding that the UK should be treated as a sovereign nation since leaving the bloc in January.