ON INTERNATIONAL Trade Day today, Alun Cairns, the secretary of state, has discussed sowing the seeds for Wales' future trade ambitions. He told JO BARNES:

"We are less than a fortnight away from an historic series of votes in the Commons that will set us on our course for our future relationship with the European Union.

But in the meantime there is so much work to be done to seize the existing opportunities that come with leaving the EU.

Trade deals are being negotiated and struck around the world as we speak.

Those who have been watching Inside the Foreign Office on BBC Two will see just how hard the international network of civil servants and diplomats are working to ensure the UK remains a top destination for inward investment, and a leading exporter of world-renowned goods and services.

Underpinning that work is an ambitious and wide-ranging free trade deal with one of our key trading partners, the EU.

It covers goods, services and investment, protecting UK jobs and just-in-time supply chains.

It gives us the freedom to strike new trade deals around the world with old friends like the US, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the opportunity to design our own trade policy in the interests of British industry and consumers.

That’s the ambition, but we should also recognise Wales and the UK’s continued standing as a global leader in exporting goods to every corner of the world.

Wales has played a central part in leading that charge.

The value of our exports continues to rise and now stands at almost £17bn, proving that opportunities can also lie in markets outside of the European Union due to the demand that exists for our products and services.

At the first ever Welsh meeting of the Board of Trade in Swansea earlier this month, we awarded eight exceptional Welsh exporters with a Board of Trade Award, celebrating their success in exporting and driving investment. These firms, ranging from luxury furniture makers Silverlining from Wrexham, to beer brewers Tiny Rebel from Newport showcase the diversity and strength of the Welsh export scene.

But what lies ahead for south eEast Wales in particular?

This region is on the cusp of its greatest economic stimulus for decades when tolls on the Severn crossings are abolished next month.

We know that this commitment is already having a profound impact on the region’s economy, and across South Wales.

With this economic shift comes a whole host of opportunities for Welsh businesses, who will make savings of thousands of pounds per year on crossing charges, as well as being able attract new talent from a broader pool of jobseekers.

The same is true from businesses relocating to the Gwent area, who will be looking to fill vacancies in Wales, contributing to our already record employment rates.

Regular commuters will also save up to £1,400 per year on toll charges, meaning they’ll have more money left over at the end of the month to spend in their local areas.

Coupled with the UK’s ability to develop an independent trade policy for the first time in 40 years, the UK government is sowing the seeds for Welsh companies of all sizes to take the plunge and begin their exporting journey. And for existing exporters, our deal delivers a free trade area with the EU that ensures businesses can continue to export and import goods from our largest trading partner without facing tariffs and quotas.

So as we leave the EU, we have a growing economy, low unemployment and the ability to shape future independent trade deals with partners around the world.

Analysis shows that our deal is the best available for protecting jobs and the economy, and realising the opportunities presented by Brexit.

The IMF predict that 90 per cent of growth will come from outside the EU in the coming years, and our exit from the EU presents us with the greatest opportunity ever to forge new business ties with these global markets."