Barry Gardiner MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, commenting on this week’s inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting said:
“The Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting1 further demonstrates that the government is actively holding discussions with potential trading partners on our future trading relations. Although the government has told us their plan for Brexit, they have not presented to Parliament and the British people what their plan is for international trade. We’ve been promised an ‘independent trade policy’ from the Secretary of State for International Trade, however, this has not been disclosed.
“The government must produce an International Trade White Paper and give urgent clarity what their plans are for our future international trade, outlining negotiating principles and trade policy objectives.
“To this end, I have written2 to the Secretary of State for International Trade calling for him to urgently publish an International Trade White Paper and to address key unanswered questions about the government’s international trade policy.”
Notes to Editors:
1. Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting 9-10 March 2017.
2. A copy of the letter is provided below. The letter refers to the following matters:
- ‘an open, trading nation to strike the best trade deals around the world’ – Prime Minister Theresa May 17 January 2017
- ‘for the first time in more than four decades, Britain will have an independent trade policy’ – Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox 26 January 2017
- The Office of the United States Trade Representative releases President Trump’s 2017 Trade Policy Agenda, March 2017
- Protectionism is the ‘class A drug of the trading world’ – Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox 9 March 2017
- ‘Empire 2.0’ -; example media of the UK’s alleged Commonwealth trade agenda.
- Department for International Trade advertisement for International Strategy Projects Analyst implied that priority trade sectors are: ‘Healthcare, Financial Services, Education, Creative Industries, Advanced Manufacturing, Aerospace, Defence, Energy, Tech, and Infrastructure & Smart Cities.
Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP
Secretary of State for International Trade
Department for International Trade
King Charles Street
London, SW1A 2AH
10 March 2017
Dear Secretary of State,
At the start of this year Prime Minister Theresa May promised us that Brexit would empower us to become ‘an open, trading nation to strike the best trade deals around the world.’ You yourself promised that ‘for the first time in more than four decades, Britain will have an independent trade policy.’ It is worth noting that President Trump’s administration issued their trade policy paper within his first seven weeks in office. Yet now, more than seven months since the creation of your Department, we still do not have an International Trade White Paper setting out your government’s core policies and objectives for our trading future. In this letter I am calling on you to commit to producing one.
Now, as the Prime Minister is about to trigger our exit from the EU, UK businesses need clarity on this as never before. Our future prosperity as a nation depends upon our international trade. Trade is presented in both the government’s Brexit White Paper and Industrial Strategy Green Paper, as the core pillar in Britain’s future. Despite this you still have not presented to parliament a comprehensive document setting out a coherent strategy for the UK’s trade negotiations; you have not set out the principles and objectives our country seeks to incorporate into its future negotiations; nor have you produced an agenda setting out the priority countries or sectors that will be of most importance to our future balance of payments.
It is not satisfactory to take our country forward into an uncertain future without a comprehensive plan on international trade being properly presented to Parliament and to the British people. It is not acceptable to have no programme against which you and your department can be held to account.
Travelling around the world to hold ‘pre-negotiations’ with potential trade partners is no substitute for clear policy and an International Trade White Paper. Perhaps if you had first focussed on policy rather than polemics we might have been spared the embarrassment of a British Secretary of State alienating Commonwealth Ministers with a vision of trade that his own officials are referring to as “Empire 2.0”.
The UK must learn to engage constructively with the rich diversity of potential trading partners that are willing to work with us post Brexit. Astonishingly, you considered it appropriate to lecture 34 Commonwealth Ministers about protectionism -; likening it to a Class A drug; yet strangely neither you nor the Prime Minister managed to incorporate such references to the evils of protectionism into your speeches in the United States despite President Trump’s rhetoric about ‘America first’.
Many Commonwealth trading partners are concerned, post Brexit, to see the UK continue the EU’s GSP-plus system of enhanced preference for countries that have implemented core human and labour rights as well as environmental and good governance conventions. Least Developed Countries in particular need reassurance about the “Everything but Arms” arrangement which grants duty-free and quota-free access into our markets to all products (except arms and ammunition) from those countries.
An International Trade White Paper should set out your international trade principles, a clear plan of what you intend to achieve through future trade negotiations, and should have absolute buy in from all your cabinet colleagues.
To that end, I have set out below key unanswered questions about the government’s international trade policy:
- What are your trade policy objectives?
- What will be your guiding principles for our future negotiations?
- How will you seek further liberalisation from our current tariff levels and in what sectors?
- What transparency and parliamentary scrutiny will be given over our future trade negotiations?
- Will you commit to disclosing whether any obligations in trade agreements (both those in negotiation or finalised) are the motivation for legislative amendments before the House or regulatory changes by the government?
- How will you ensure that our future trade agreements benefit British SMEs as well as big business?
- How do you propose to protect and enhance workers’ rights?
- How will you address human rights within the context of new trade agreements?
- How will sustainable development be a guiding principle for our trade policy?
- How will you ensure that current environmental protections are maintained and enhanced in future trade agreements?
- What investment dispute resolution model(s) is your government willing to adopt?
- Your department’s recruitment advertisements suggest that your priority trade sectors are: ‘Healthcare, Financial Services, Education, Creative Industries, Advanced Manufacturing, Aerospace, Defence, Energy, Tech, and Infrastructure & Smart Cities.’ How will your trade policy address sectors that do not appear to be identified as a priority, such as food and farming?
- Will you be excluding devolved administrations and local government agencies from trade agreement commitments on Government Procurement?
- How will you ensure that British businesses maintain access to both European markets and the markets of other trading partners, especially where there is considerable regulatory divergence between these markets?
- Will the UK be adopting any non-conforming measures for investment and service commitments in its future trade agreements?
- Have you given your Ministerial counterparts at the recent Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting a strong reassurance that, when the UK leaves the EU, those who are Least Developed Countries, will not see their exports to the UK fall off a cliff edge?
- Will you give an assurance that the government will continue the generalised system of preferences arrangements after the UK leaves the EU?
By providing comprehensive answers to all these questions and publishing an International Trade White Paper the government may be able to restore business confidence that it is holding current trade dialogues and working groups that are backed by a clear and strategic plan.
If not, it will reinforce the sense that the government is blundering into this process without a clear endgame and lacking a strategic understanding of the issues at stake for the UK economy and jobs.
Barry Gardiner MP
Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade