Revealed: UK’s plan to lobby for free global trade outside the EU when Brexit looms
- Britain will lobby for low tariffs and more powers for the WTO, sources say
- Britain is still bound by most EU rules until December 31
Britain is about to put a lot of pressure on free trade around the world, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Sources said that Britain’s first independent trade policy since 1973 – which would come into effect in January – would be lobbying for low tariffs and greater powers for the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Although Britain left the European Union on January 31, it is still bound by most rules until December 31. After that, the government can fully pursue a fully independent trade policy.
The UK is determined to continue trade liberalization and restore the powers of the Geneva-based WTO to punish countries that defy trade agreements
It plans to use the presidency of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced countries for the year to try to overcome obstacles to freer trade around the world.
The UK will also urge the WTO to return its legal teeth to inflict painful punishment on countries that violate trade rules.
And officials will strive to work with a loose coalition of like-minded states, such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, to end the tide of protectionism that started after the 2008 financial crisis.
This has accelerated since the coronavirus pandemic was blamed by some for international supply chains.
“This is a top priority for the Prime Minister,” said a Whitehall source, citing Boris Johnson’s commitment to the free flow of goods and services, and his appointment of an ardent free trader, Liz Truss, as secretary for international trade.
Since Britain joined the European Community 47 years ago, both trade policy and the negotiation of agreements with the outside world have been the exclusive province of Brussels officials.
Coincidentally, Britain takes over the G7 presidency in January. The coronavirus outbreak has also led to the next summit of this year’s WTO trade ministers being moved to the next. This gives Britain the opportunity to use its G7 platform to push the organization in the desired direction.
The UK is determined to continue trade liberalization and restore the powers of the Geneva-based WTO to punish countries that defy trade agreements.
President Donald Trump has accused the organization of taking a soft position on China and has blocked the appointment of the WTO Appellate Body – in fact, the court. The judge has denied the judges it needs, but is currently dismissing new cases and dealing only with the existing backlog.
The EU and others have proposed an alternative court that would exclude the US. However, the UK would prefer to get the existing body back on its feet.
British WTO ambassador Julian Braithwaite has quadrupled his trade team in Geneva since the Brexit vote in 2016.
He and his colleagues at the Department for International Trade (DIT) in London are determined that replacing the outgoing WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo from Brazil should be a staunch champion of world trade and adherence to the rules.
When asked about the likely direction of the country’s trade policy once it is fully back under national control, the DIT said: ‘At the heart of the UK’s independent trade policy is a commitment to free, fair, rules-based trade.
“Coronavirus has shown us how important it is to keep trade going and build diverse supply chains that are robust in a crisis.”
An important objective of the British ministers, even during the decades when the UK has actually outsourced trade policy to the EU, has been the liberalization of cross-border trade in services.
Although full trade policy independence has to wait for January 1, the British mission to the WTO has already taken a symbolic step.
Braithwaite previously sat in the WTO council chamber with other EU ambassadors and was only able to observe the European Trade Commissioner while addressing the organization. He has now moved to the other side of the room, where he is sitting on his own, close to the US ambassador.