Liam Fox outlines Brexit global trade deal and sparks Leave fury because it copies the EU
Brexit trade minister and North Somerset MP Liam Fox has admitted Britain will have to effectively have the same trade agreements with other countries around the world – even after leaving the European Union.
Dr Fox announced he has opened discussions with 164 other countries in the World Trade Organisation, but because Britain has just two years before it leaves the EU, he will have to ‘replicate as far as possible’ the current agreements and ‘obligations’ to the World Trade Organisation.
And that – given the Brexit campaign was won largely on the basis of the promise of bespoke trade deals between Britain and other major countries outside the EU, like Brazil, China and the US – has caused criticism from Brexit campaigners.
Whitehall officials said Dr Fox’s announcement is the first and necessary part of the process of leaving the EU, but the International Trade Secretary is in a Catch-22 situation because although Britain needs trade agreements in place with other countries outside the EU, most of the 164 members of the World Trade Organisation are waiting to see the deal Britain strikes with the EU on the terms of Brexit.
“This is necessary and beginning this process now will minimise any disruption,” said an official at the Department for International Trade. “This is preparatory work we are required to undertake. We are aiming to have the schedules in place when we leave. We want to provide a degree of certainty.”
Members of the World Trade Organisation draw up ‘schedules’ with each other, outlining how countries will trade with one another, what tariffs apply to what goods and what limits on the amount of certain products attract a certain level of tariff.
Britain, as a member of the EU, has given control over all of those schedules to the EU for the past 40 years, and taking back control of them to do better deals for Britain was seen as one of the main campaign features of the Brexit referendum.
The EU rules mean Britain can’t do a better deal with, for example, countries in the Caribbean on bananas or on oranges with north Africa, because the EU has harsher trade deals to protect Spanish producers.
But the likelihood of a better import arrangements with those countries, or with New Zealand over food imports, or China for exporting British goods, appears unlikely, because Dr Fox said Britain would ‘replicate as far as possible’ whatever the current EU schedules are.
Ian Dunt, the author of Brexit, What Next? said that single line undermined the entire reason for Brexit in the first place.
“This should be the chance to create that confident, independent, global trading nation Fox and the other Brexiteers are always talking about,” he told Politics website. “Finally Britain can construct a trading arrangement which suits it, not the continent.
“It is a startling admission. The UK’s extracted WTO schedules will ‘replicate as far as possible’ it’s current status.
“So we’ll keep the special rule for oranges, even though we don’t grow them. We will continue to protect a sugar process designed for Europe and continue failing to protect one used by one of our major companies, despite its years of lobbying to change the system.
“In short, despite all the sound and the fury, despite all the attacks against immigrants and the threats against EU citizens in the UK, despite all the Brexit votes and the Richmond rebellions and the sudden change in this country’s political dynamic, the government is not aiming to change anything of any substance. Britain will keep the exact EU tariff system which Brexiters for so long said was strangling it,” he added.