Quick and easy trade deals after Brexit are a ‘myth’ – Open Britain

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: Getty/CreativaImages
Picture: Getty/CreativaImages

Related tags Trade Single market European union Brexit

A pro-EU group has warned of “bleak” prospects if Britain goes it alone on trade deals and the risk of reduced food standards as well as quota and tariff issues.

The report by Open Britain was launched by Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, Conservative MP Anna Soubry and Labour MP Chuka Umunna.

They argue Britain should stay​ in the European Economic Area (EEA) and the customs union to maintain its position as a global trading nation.

It comes less than a week before a vote in the House of Commons on the government’s Withdrawal Bill.

From watering down food and environmental standards…to opening sectors of our economy in ways that could undercut UK businesses and agriculture, the obstacles to agreeing new deals could be endless,”​ said the trio.

The government’s current plan is to withdraw from the EU single market and customs union and set up trade deals with countries around the world.  

The opposition Labour Party wants full access to the EU’s single market to avoid disruption to the UK’s trading relationship with the European Union.

Quotas, tariffs and food standards

Six trading partners most commonly cited by government as targets for trade deals are looked at: the US, China, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Gulf states.  

US trade figures have said agreeing to change sanitary and phytosanitary standards to allow greater access for meat exporters – including chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef – is needed for any free trade agreement.

Other issues in the report include genetically modified food, somatic cell count in milk and addition of ractopamine to pigs.

Sheep and beef meat and sugar cane quotas and tariffs were highlighted in the Australia analysis.

Another issue is agricultural standards and hormone-treated beef that would breach EU regulations.

“This would compel the EU to check all meat arriving from the UK to ensure that no Australian hormone-treated beef was entering EU markets. That would almost certainly mean a hard Irish border, and a breach of the UK and EU’s phase-one Brexit agreement.”

The key issue in the New Zealand deal will be food and tariff-rate quotas, according to the analysis.

“While New Zealand is asking the UK to remove tariffs and quotas, and not to reduce standards, a deal with the UK could lead to more British farmers, particularly in the sheep and dairy sectors, going out of business.”

Tariffs on Scotch whisky could be an issue when negotiating with India.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and already have low tariffs on foreign goods.

Some exports, such as alcohol to Saudi Arabia, would be impossible.

Trade deals take time

Soubry said a Customs Union with the EU means a continued part in forging new free trade deals with other countries.

“It's a fallacy that we're better off out chasing unicorn deals on our own and that's recognised by the government. Its own assessments show even if we got a deal with every available country it wouldn't make good the harm we will do by walking out of the Customs Union and putting up custom barriers with the EU​.”

Cable said trade negotiations are ‘nasty, brutish and long’ and generally involve trade-offs.

“The notion that a raft of new deals can be done swiftly or bring overall benefit to the UK economy has now been exposed as a fantasy.”

Umunna said empty rhetoric from government about ‘Global Britain’ is no longer good enough.

“Labour should not be parroting Tory Brexiter’s excuses for not committing to keep the UK in the European Economic Area, in addition to the EU Customs Union. Next week crucial votes will take place on our future relationship with the European Union and they offer the chance to defeat a hard Brexit once-and-for-all.”

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