Liz Truss says ‘we need to diversify our trade’
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The Foreign Secretary arrived in Malaysia on Sunday as part of a post-Brexit effort to strengthen ties with leaders beyond Europe. On a mission to enhance Britain’s “economic and security relations” with the Indo-Pacific region, she will travel to Thailand and Indonesia next.
Ms Truss has held talks with Ismail Sabri, Malaysia’s ninth prime minister; Saifuddin Abdullah, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Senior Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
As was expected, the talks tackled “greater tech collaboration”, a subject Ms Truss set her sights on ahead of the trip.
Ms Truss said: “We are zeroing in on the opportunities of the future, such as technology.”
She added: “With the digital revolution only accelerating in the wake of the pandemic, we want to club together with like-minded partners to form a coalition of tech revolutionaries.”
They also discussed deepening “economic links”, including the UK’s intention to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a free trade group, without free movement of people, formed by Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam.
Ms Truss started the process of joining the deal during her role as International Trade Secretary.
Now, as Foreign Secretary, she is making progress on that for which she laid the groundwork.
She said: “We are using our newfound freedom to position ourselves alongside the next generation of economic superpowers.”
The four leaders also talked about the 50-year-anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA), the pact formed by Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the UK in 1971 following the termination of the UK’s defence guarantees of the two Asian countries under the Anglo-Malayan Defence Agreement.
The five nations remain committed to the FPDA.
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Insiders say Truss’ Southeast-Asian tour, which comes pretty early on in her tenure, demonstrates the important regard she holds the region in at a time when the UK’s relations with the EU are fragile.
Ms Truss, who pointed out that Indonesia, not Germany, will be the fourth biggest economy in the world by 2050, made it clear that she saw great potential in revitalising ties with nations and regions beyond Europe.
She emphasised that Brexit has given the UK the independence to nurture its relations with the world’s fastest-growing economies, as they have until now been “under-powered”.
Truss said in a statement ahead of the tour: “I want to position Britain where the future growth is and to think about who our major partners will be in 2050 and beyond.
“Southeast Asia will be the engine of the global economy and I want Britain to be part of that, upgrading our economic and security relations with the region to reflect its growing importance.
“Deeper ties are a win-win, delivering jobs and opportunities for British people while ensuring an open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific.
“Working with key Southeast Asia partners will help us promote freedom and democracy across the world.”
It comes at a critical moment for UK-EU relations, with a heightened prospect of the UK triggering Article 16 and a trade war between the two parties erupting.
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