INTERNATIONAL trade minister Conor Burns has urged Dorset businesses to seize the "huge opportunities" for exporters as Britain’s exit from the European Union looms.

The minister was given a tour of the Port of Poole and issued a call for firms to “step up and engage with international markets”.

Mr Burns, the MP for Bournemouth West, told the Daily Echo: “All of us have been asked by the prime minister, as we prepare to leave the European Union in few days’ time, to get out there with our message that January 31 represents an opportunity for the UK.

“From my own perspective at the Department for International Trade, fewer than 12 per cent of UK companies export at all and of those that do export, 66 per cent are what we call passive exporters – they simply wait for companies to come to them, they don’t go out and proactively seek to do that. And to make a great success of Brexit we need companies to step up and engage with international markets.”

His visit came days after chancellor Sajid Javid alarmed business groups by saying there would be “no alignment” with EU regulations after Brexit. Mr Javid has since said that the UK would only diverge from Europe when it was in the interests of business.

Mr Burns said: “I think what the chancellor was saying is that there’s no point in leaving if you then copy absolutely everything that the EU does going forward. That would be effectively to be a decaffeinated ongoing member state and to be a rule taker.

“We obviously start from a position where we do everything the same way. There will be rules around data sharing, around how we innovate in tech, where we may wish in due course to do things slightly differently and in the areas where there is divergence, that will have consequences, but it will also have opportunities.

“But I think what the chancellor was essentially saying was if we’re leaving, which we are, you’ve got to be able to exploit the opportunities of leaving and that means in some areas doing things slightly differently.”

While Britain will leave the EU at 11pm on Friday, January 31, its trading relationship with Europe remains unchanged throughout an implementation period that runs until the end of the year.

“We’re working very aggressively in government to make sure that the information flow is strong and robust and clear and there will be plenty of advice available to businesses in plenty of time for anything that’s changing,” said Mr Burns.

“But my key message to any businesses – and remember that an overwhelming majority of British businesses don’t export at all – is ‘Look at the opportunities’. There’s real excitement out there. One thing that Brexit is doing is making other countries look to us and say, ‘Well, what does Brexit mean not for you, Britain, but what does it mean in terms of our capacity to do things bilaterally with you?;

“There are huge opportunities out there, there’s real interest in Britain again and there’s huge support through the Department for International Trade for small and medium sized companies to show them how easy it is frankly to export and to support them if they wish to embark on an export journey.”

Mr Burns also said the government wanted to “dial down” a dispute with the US, which has threatened to introduce tariffs on imports of British cars if the UK goes ahead with a tax on the digital giants this spring.

“We believe that a tariff war is in nobody’s interests at all. We’ve got to de-escalate this,” said Mr Burns.

He said the government would shortly be publishing a negotiating mandate for a free trade deal with the US. “It’s very much the view of the government that we should be dialling this down, we should be talking about this, we should be finding a way to reduce or eliminate tariffs, not getting into the business of a tariff war. That’s in nobody’s interest whatsoever, not least British car manufacturers or those who work in that sector,” he added.