A former Assistant Director at the Department for International Trade sounds a warningby David Henig / April 24, 2018 / Leave a comment
If you travel around the UK meeting exporters—as I did as a trade policy expert working for the UK government over the last few years—you can’t help but be impressed. Across the country there are innovative businesses selling goods and services across the world, showing there is still a flair for trade in the UK. Whether a member of the European Union or not, a major focus of UK trade policy should be supporting these businesses and assisting in their growth.
Listen to the debate about Global Britain that takes place in parliament and the needs of business or anyone else seem distant. To some proponents of leaving the EU it appears that the UK will bestride the globe doing trade deals with anyone we like to achieve everything we ever dreamed. To opponents the UK is so diminished that no other country will be remotely tempted to ever do a trade agreement with us.
Let’s try to push the reset button on this sterile debate. There’s no shortage of countries who would like to talk trade with the UK, and never will be. But it isn’t just because they’re supporters of free trade, whatever they may claim. Countries will talk to us because they want something from the UK. If Global Britain means trade agreements we’re going to have to work out whether to give the other party what they want. In exchange we can get some of what we want. A trade agreement is a trade in itself.
Last week the organisation I now work for, the European Centre for International Political Economy published a report “Assessing UK Trade Policy Readiness” against a number of criteria essential to success in trade policy. In many cases, including in the clarity of what the UK wants, we could see that work had started, but no evidence of a stable public position. Without this Global Britain is just something business will have to try to do without government support.
Let’s start with what we want from trade agreements. At present all we know is that we want them with the United States, Australia and New Zealand, or perhaps we’ll join the Trans Pacific Partnership, which includes the latter two countries. As an answer “US, Australia and New Zealand” feels rather like “42” in the Hitchhikers Guide to the…