Britain is to start negotiations to join a free trade area which could grant businesses access to “some of the biggest economies of the present and future”, the government has said.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is made up of 11 nations, including Australia, Canada and Japan.

Membership would reduce tariffs on exports such as cars and whisky. The trade area covers a market of around 500 million people.

New Zealand, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are also founder members of the trade agreement, which was established in 2018. The UK applied to join the bloc in January following Brexit.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the trade area was the “part of the world where Britain’s greatest opportunities lie”. Being granted membership would be a “glittering post-Brexit prize that I want us to seize”, she said. The UK is the first non-founding country to apply to join the CPTPP and would be its second-biggest economy after Japan if negotiations succeed.

The free trade agreement aims to reduce trade tariffs – a form of border tax – between member countries and includes a promise to eliminate or reduce 95% of charges on traded goods. In return, countries must cooperate on regulations, such as food standards. However, these standards and regulations do not have to be identical, and member countries can strike their own trade deals.