Britain on Thursday signed a free-trade deal with Singapore, giving it a key foothold in Asia as it seeks to forge its own path after leaving the European Union, while talks on a post-Brexit deal stumble.

The agreement largely replicates an existing EU-Singapore agreement, with the city-state’s trade ministry saying it will cover more than 17 billion pounds (US$22 billion) in trade.

It 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, a former British colony that maintains close links with London.

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 his British counterpart Liz Truss.

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“Beyond the significant benefits to our respective businesses, the (deal) is a strong statement against protectionism and nativism,” 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 650 million people and — prior to the pandemic-induced downturn — had enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years.

The deal came after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave themselves until Sunday to decide on the future of post-Brexit negotiations, following a three-hour dinner that left the two sides “far apart”.

Britain and the EU are running out of time to reach an agreement on a future trading relationship before the end of a post-Brexit transition period at the end of the year.

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© Agence France-Presse