A senior Conservative gives a sober assessment of Britain's post-Brexit trade prospectsby Mark Prisk / April 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
Next year, for the first time in over 40 years, we will be able to negotiate and sign our own trade agreements with other independent nations. I see this as a great opportunity, though not without risk, that we should embrace.
It’s important to remember two things. First, exporting often operates without trade agreements. After all, the United States is our single largest national export market, yet we have no agreement in place. So, we don’t have to have everything in place by January 2021.
Second, we need to remember the real goal: ensuring the UK is able to sell more of what it does and makes around the globe. That means more exports, but it also means getting more companies to become exporters. This is something which both government and business need to address.
What should be our priorities in trade negotiations? First, we must be vigorous advocates of free trade. Free, open markets stimulate innovation, create jobs and deliver lower prices and greater choice for consumers.
However, free trade still requires a rules-based multilateral trading system. We need to make this case unilaterally and within organisations like the World Trade Organisation.
This will mean arguing against voices of protectionism, here in the UK and elsewhere. It won’t be easy, but if we try to protect uncompetitive British businesses, then others will retaliate. Ultimately no one wins, as some commentators in the US are now pointing out.
Second, we should seek a trade agreement with the EU that is as deep as possible. This will depend as much on continental interests as it will on the UK’s priorities—some UK sectors will fare better than others. As the prime minister sensibly pointed out, we won’t get everything we seek.
Third, we should seek to reproduce as many of the EU’s current trade agreements with other nations as possible, starting with the larger markets for UK exports. These will ensure continuity for UK exporters in the early post-Brexit years. There are approximately 40 of these and the Trade Bill currently before parliament will help speed these through.
Fourth, we need to be pragmatic in forging new agreements. That means not just multilateral agreements, but also bilateral ones. We’ll need to be smart about this and be willing to focus on the best prospects. The introduction of regional Trade Commissioners should help.
Nor should we assume that this is simply about national negotiations. There are important major cities and states with which we could make agreements. Through my work as the government’s trade envoy for Brazil, I’ve learned that the regional state of São Paulo has an economy larger than most Latin American nations. We should be willing to forge new relationships at regional, national and city-state level.
Finally, I think we need to be realistic. The Brexit debate has become polarised and the arguments on both sides overstated. We’re told Brexit is either going to be a complete disaster, or an unmitigated triumph. Neither is true. We need to be clear about both the threats and opportunities.