The government has admitted it has run out of time to roll over existing trade pacts with Japan and Turkey in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
A document released on Thursday by the Department for Trade showed it was seeking to continue deals with 40 trading partners currently covered by EU membership, accounting for 11% of all UK trade.
But it confirmed that in the case of Japan – whose trade pact with the EU only came into force this month – “it is unlikely that we will reach an agreement prior to exit day”.
It said the same was true in the case of a third nation – Algeria.
The publication prompted the leader of one major business group to accuse ministers of under-delivering.
The International Trade Secretary Liam Fox had earlier expressed confidence in completing the work ahead of 29 March – when the UK is due to leave the EU.
The government document read: “This concerns guidance for a no deal scenario.
“Leaving the EU with a deal remains the government’s top priority. This has not changed.
While a number of these continuity agreements are likely to be concluded by exit day, it is the duty of government to produce a highly cautious list of those that may not be in place in order that businesses and individuals ensure that they are prepared for every eventuality.”
By ruling out a deal before 29 March with Japan – by far the largest of the current trading partners with £10bn of exports in goods to the country annually – it means cargo arriving there – or here from Japan – on 30 March will be subject to World Trade Organisation rules and therefore additional tariffs.
Sky News was in Felixstowe on Monday as the giant container ship Thalassa Mana departed for Osaka – with the cost of its cargo at destination hanging in the balance.
That is because it is due to arrive on 30 March.
In addition to announcing which countries would have no transitional trade arrangement ahead of the deadline, the government confirmed it had signed continuity agreements with Switzerland, Chile, the Faroe Islands, Eastern and Southern Africa, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Most agreements on the list were listed as “engagement ongoing”, including arrangements with Canada.
Adam Marshall, the chief executive of the British Chambers of Commerce, responded: “The lack of progress revealed today is an incredibly disappointing, though not an unexpected admission.
“This is unfortunately yet another example where politicians have over-promised and under-delivered – and it is businesses and consumers both at home and abroad that will pay the price.”
Sky’s economics editor Ed Conway said the government document underlined just how exposed the UK economy is to disruption in the event of no deal.
He said: “Goods on their way to different countries would face tariffs, there would be questions about how easily they could pass through ports, and there probably would be major disruption at the UK border as well.”
He added: “Of course, in the end these continuity agreements are dwarfed by the scale of the main task: agreeing a withdrawal deal with the EU.
“If that is achieved Britain gets the transitional deal that would prevent all this temporary disruption.”
Japan accounts for 2% of UK exports.
The Brexit issue has been at the centre of a spate of recent decisions by Japanese firms operating in the UK.
Panasonic and Sony have shifted their European headquarters from the country to ensure full access to EU markets.
Both Nissan – through its u-turn to build a new model at Sunderland – and Honda, which is closing its Swindon plant, have however distanced their decisions from any Brexit link.