Britain wants ‘continuity’ in EU trade agreements
British Prime Minister Theresa May | Peter Nicholls/WPA Pool via Getty Images
LONDON — The U.K. will try to soften the economic blow of Brexit by clinging on to as many EU trade agreements with non-EU countries as it can, a senior Whitehall official indicated.
While Prime Minister Theresa May and Trade Secretary Liam Fox have publicly focused on the potential for Britain to strike fresh bilateral free trade deals after Brexit, a senior civil servant in Fox’s Department for International Trade (DIT) said Tuesday that “continuity” in trade agreements with around 30 countries, with which the U.K. currently trades via EU-brokered agreements, would be a priority.
John Alty, director general of DIT’s Trade Policy Group, said his department’s work was currently only in the “planning and exploratory” stage, indicating that key decisions such as whether the U.K. remains within the European customs union, or the common commercial policy, had not yet been made.
But he said the department had begun work on “certain things that we are pretty confident we will need to do,” such as establishing the U.K.’s new place in the World Trade Organization, and looking at existing EU trade agreements with non-EU countries, which he said would provide “some sort of benchmark for our trading relations.”
“We’re looking at existing agreements that the EU has with a number of countries — about 30 actually, some of them developing countries,” he said. “Those will be priorities, to test out the appetite of countries to seek continuity there.”
The U.K. was also “trying to push the trade agenda” while it remained in the EU, Alty said, singling out the Trade in Services Agreement, which aims at liberalizing trade in services such as banking, healthcare and transport between the EU, the U.S. and more than 20 other counties.
“That would be a very important agreement for the U.K. to be part of,” he said.
Economists often note the political challenges of seeking to retain the conditions of the EU’s deals. South Korea, for example, is a bigger exporter of goods than the U.K. and Seoul would probably seek more favorable trade terms than those in its EU deal.