Brexit will not cause UK trade 'disruption' – WTO boss
The head of the World Trade Organisation has vowed to ensure Britain will not face a trade “vacuum or a disruption”, however tough its exit from the European Union.
Roberto Azevedo said that he did not believe the Brexit vote was “anti-trade” and dismissed fears that Britain could suffer a sudden seizure of trade during or after its negotiations with the EU.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, the WTO director-general also said that while Britain would have to renegotiate its membership of the trade body after its EU departure, the process was relatively straightforward.
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“I will be working hard – I will work very intensely to ensure that this transition is fast and is smooth,” he said.
“The less turbulence the better. The global economy today is not in the best shape for us to be introducing turbulence.”
Asked about the exit process and whether it would prove tricky and disruptive for UK businesses and households reliant on the billions of pounds of trade in and out of Britain’s ports every week, he said: “I’m not saying there will be a vacuum.
“The UK is a member of the WTO today, it will continue to be a member tomorrow. There will be no discontinuity in membership.
“They have to renegotiate (their terms of membership) but that doesn’t mean they are not members.
“Trade will not stop, it will continue and members negotiate the legal basis under which that trade is going to happen. But it doesn’t mean that we’ll have a vacuum or a disruption.”
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The comments seem to mark a change in tone from the institution, which safeguards trade rules around the world.
Before the vote, Mr Azevedo was repeatedly warning about the difficulties Britain would face if it left the EU, including raising some questions about its membership of the organisation and its capacity to renegotiate the multitude of trade agreements previously signed on its behalf by the EU.
However, he did add that it was hard to anticipate how long it would take the UK to negotiate its new trade arrangements.
“It’s very difficult to predict but my understanding is that the UK government is fully aware of all that, we have been talking, they know of these complexities and they’re trying to handle it in the best way they can.
“I told (Trade Secretary Liam Fox) that I myself and the WTO secretariat will be available to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“Then we have been in touch, not every day, but clearly there will be a very dynamic relationship in the future.”
Asked whether he felt the UK had a comprehensive plan, he said: “I think there is a major strategy.
“Since the vote there have been a lot of bright people spending 24 hours a day thinking about this and coming up with alternatives and a game plan.”
(c) Sky News 2016: Brexit will not cause UK trade ‘disruption’ – WTO boss