Britain must seize the "golden opportunity" provided by Brexit and not "fritter it away", Liam Fox has told the Conservative conference.
The UK was synonymous with free trade for centuries and must be so again, the international trade secretary said.
But he said British firms need to raise their game when it came to selling their goods and services abroad.
Mr Fox was criticised last month for suggesting that British companies had become "fat and complacent".
Mr Fox, a key Leave campaigner who was brought back into government by Prime Minister Theresa May, is hoping to set up trade agreements after the UK leaves the EU.
In his speech to Tory activists, Mr Fox said free trade was "the building block of who we are" as a country and the UK had a "tremendous opportunity to shape the world for the benefit of all" in the wake of the vote to leave the EU.
Suggesting that the UK had "outsourced" trade policy when it joined the EU Common Market in 1973, he said Brexit would bring it back "to the heart" of government.
While there were huge opportunities to negotiate free trade deals after Brexit, Mr Fox said the UK and other "passionate champions of free trade" had to "drown out" the voices of protectionism.
He also warned that the UK's trade balance had deteriorated since 2011, compared with countries such as the US and France - with exports accounting for 27% of the UK's GDP, compared with levels of more than 45% elsewhere.
The international trade secretary said just 11% of British firms traded overseas and that "we know from the performance of the best that we can do much better overall".
He also attacked those who tried to portray the referendum result as a sign of the UK "turning inwards" - saying the UK would "harness all our natural advantages as we seek to carve a new role outside the European Union".
"The British people presented us with a shining opportunity to make history. We will not ignore it or fritter it away.
"We are not afraid to lead or take our place on the world stage...No we are not afraid, we are inspired, we are emboldened and we are ready. Let us rise to the challenge of our golden opportunity as never before."