PEOPLE in the North-East have a fantastic opportunity to reap the benefits that will come from Brexit.

Because in March next year, the UK will begin trade talks with countries outside the EU for the first time in more than 40 years.

By striking our own deals, negotiated just for the UK rather than for the whole of Europe, we will be able to sell more products and services from the North-East to the rest of the world.

But it also means a greater choice of products from across the globe, sold in shops across the region at lower prices than before.

So, the Government wants to secure free trade agreements with countries around the world to make it easier and cheaper to buy and sell products and services.

The US, Australia and New Zealand are top of our list for new free trade agreements, as well as joining a partnership with 11 countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean that includes Japan, Canada and Mexico.

Last year, exports of goods to the US and the 11 countries around the Pacific were worth £1.95bn to the North-East’s economy and made up more than £1 in every £7 of the region’s goods exports.

Those 11 countries made up £31.5bn of UK trade in 2016 – more than the Netherlands, France or China. And many of them are expected to be a major source of global economic growth in the coming years.

Today’s roundtable being hosted by the Department for International Trade in Durham will hear from North-East businesses on what they want from future trade deals.

But I also want readers of the Northern Echo to have their say by going to before Friday, October 26, to tell us what they want from the trade talks we plan to start next year.

Across the whole of the North-East, more than 2,800 businesses sold almost £13bn worth of goods overseas last year, an increase of eight per cent on the year before.

One great example to come out of the North-East is the snack manufacturer Oatein, based in Whitley Bay, which produces high-protein snacks such as flapjacks and cookies for health-conscious consumers.

The company started exporting just two months after it was founded, thanks to DIT support which helped the firm to attend Gulffood where they landed a contract with a major Middle Eastern supermarket chain. Within six months its products had reached the shelves of 32 countries including Mexico and Australia.

Ninety per cent of the company’s turnover comes from exports and it is expected to triple as it enters the US and Canadian markets, a great example of what can be achieved through seizing opportunities abroad.

Yet another success story is from the North-East is Newcastle-based seed packaging company Seedcell, which manufactures biodegradable pods filled with different vegetable or herb seeds. Its customers are people looking for an environmentally friendly way to easily grow their own produce at home.

After a particularly bad British winter, the company realised it needed to turn the business into an international venture that would generate year-round sales, so has been working with DIT to identify the new overseas markets and now have their sights set on cracking the markets in the US and Australia.

I KNOW there are many more examples just like these, and as companies in the North-East work to meet the increasing demand for their products around the world, the rising sales overseas will bring prosperity and create jobs in the region.

These are the benefits that trade can bring and when we sit down with these countries, one thing will matter more than anything else: that we are getting a good deal for the whole of the UK.

I know that some people are also worried about rumours they have heard about chlorinated chicken or the privatisation of our NHS. So, let me be clear that in any trade deals we sign, we will continue to protect the NHS and we will keep our high food standards. There is no question about that.

Before we start these talks next year, I want to know how you think we should approach them.

The Government is looking for views from people across the whole UK.

The demand is out there for what Britain is able to sell and we must set our sights on this bright future and reap the benefits for the people living in the North-East.