Freedom to do tailor-made trade deals has been one of the key arguments for Brexit.
But as well as talking to potential new partners such as the USA, India and China, the Government has been trying to replicate agreements the UK already had with 70 countries as part of its membership of the EU.
So far, continuity deals covering 48 countries had been struck, including with significant partners such as Chile, South Africa and South Korea. However, big deals with major players were still to be done.
The biggest prize would be a deal with Japan.
It is the world’s third largest economy and has a food self-sufficiency rate of less than 40 per cent, with half its meat imported.
A trade deal between Japan and the EU came into force at the beginning of this year, while the US and Japan agreed a deal in September which would reduce tariffs on American products such as beef, cheese and fries by £5.6 billion.
Australia and New Zealand also have deals but so far the UK has not been able to replicate the EU deal.
On a visit to Tokyo, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said a deal with Japan was a priority.
She said: “Businesses should be reassured that there is huge political will on both sides to begin negotiating a new free trade agreement with Japan as soon as possible.”
There was some good news for British farmers.
At the start of the year, Defra announced Japan had agreed to reopen its markets for UK beef and lamb after 20 years.
Without a Japan/UK deal British beef would be subject to World Trade Organisation tariffs, but AHDB Beef and Lamb pointed out there were no tariffs on sheepmeat exports, trade deal or no deal.
With Japan relying entirely on imports for its sheepmeat, it has to import 24,200 tonnes into the country, much of it from New Zealand and Australia. This year has already seen some of these sheepmeat imports coming from the UK.
Japan is the UK’s 18th largest food and drink export market with sales of £150 million in the first six months of 2019, according to the Food and Drink Federation.
In total, the country imports more than £70bn of food. Almost half of the UK’s total trade is with the EU, 13 per cent is with countries covered by trade arrangements with the EU, while the rest is with countries not covered by any deal.