The UK government has made numerous moves to salvage trade relationships with Asian countries after the Brexit vote, but numerous diplomatic and technical hurdles stand in the way of any bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs).

Chancellor George Osborne – whose role is up in the air following the appointment of Theresa May to the role of Prime Minister – travelled to the US and Asia to attempt to minimise the trade impact of the UK’s exit from the UK.

After speaking with officials in the US about the surprising possibility of the UK joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP – a 12 nation trade pact comprised currently of nations with Pacific borders), Osborne is travelling to Asia to shore up support for Brexit Britain’s economy.

“Britain and the US have been at the forefront of open trade in the last 200 years and pursuing a stronger relationship with our biggest trading partners is now a top priority,” he said.

He added: “That’s why I am travelling to the US, China and Singapore in the coming weeks and why my message to the world is that Britain may be leaving the EU, but we are not quitting the world. ‎We will continue to be a beacon for free trade, democracy and security, more open to that world than ever.”

This came as business secretary Sajid Javid attempted to kickstart negotiations with India over a bilateral trade agreement after Brexit, and South Korea’s finance minister Yoo Il-ho said that he hopes to fast-track negotiations with the UK, which has become an important trading partner of Korea.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) expressed hopes that a bilateral agreement with the UK may be easier to achieve than the sprawling and complex FTA that has been under negotiation with the EU for some time.

President Chandrajit Banerjee said: “With Britain’s departure from the EU, India will have to negotiate an FTA with the UK which may be easier to accomplish at a bilateral level… This could well be the best era for our industries to collaborate.”

That said, exports exposure in most Asian countries to the UK is quite minimal, representing less than 1% of the Asia’s GDP. Jackit Wong, Coface

However, despite Britain’s eagerness to pursue bilateral agreements, it may have to renegotiate its terms at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) before it is able to do so.

After leaving the EU, Britain is not permitted to negotiate trade deals under WTO terms, which means it effectively cannot sign any modern trade deal, until it regularises its position within the WTO.

When the UK joined the WTO, it was under the EU’s umbrella and its membership has been shaped by EU negotiations. Theoretically then, the UK needs to reaffirm all the agreements on tariff eliminations, quotas on various exports, subsidies and everything else that was agreed with the WTO by the EU on behalf of its members.

Speaking to the FT before Brexit, WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo said: “It is extremely difficult and complex to negotiate these trade agreements. And slow as well. Even if you are in a position to negotiate quickly with all these other members it doesn’t mean that they will be in a position to negotiate with you because they have their own priorities.”

Meanwhile, traders and financiers in Asia continue to speculate as to the cost to the Asian economy of a Brexit vote.

Jackit Wong, Economist for Asia Pacific at Coface, tells GTR: “Given the uncertainty of the Brexit, in the short term, it is likely for firms to continue to remain cautious and prudent when giving trade finance. The increase in world uncertainties would probably dampen business investment and household spending sentiments, thereby adding downside risks to the already dire world trade demand. That said, exports exposure in most Asian countries to the UK is quite minimal, representing less than 1% of the Asia’s GDP.”