Creagh – Fox needs to pull his finger out just to maintain existing trade deals

Since the referendum, Ministers at the Department for International Trade have visited just five of the sixty-five countries with which Britain currently has trade deals through our membership of the European Union.

This is despite the Prime Minister and the International Trade Secretary insisting that they are working to ‘copy and paste’ those deals to avoid losing preferential market access after Brexit. Liam Fox has pledged that Britain will work to ensure that all Britain’s current trade deals will remain in place after we leave the EU.

Of the 65 countries with which Britain has free trade agreements through our membership of the European Union, Liam Fox and the department’s other Ministers – Mark Garnier and Greg Hands – have visited only Colombia, Mexico, South Korea, Switzerland and Turkey.

Taken together, the 65 countries take 14% of all UK exports, worth £72bn a year to the UK economy, meaning British exporters could be severely hit if the trade agreements are not renegotiated in time.

Liam Fox has made 17 foreign visits since becoming International Trade Secretary, yet he has visited just two of the countries with whom the EU has a deal in place: Mexico and Switzerland. Important UK trading partners not visited by DIT ministers include South Africa, Israel, Chile and Iceland.

It comes as the Government’s trade strategy has hit a major obstacle. Ministers hope to copy the EU’s tariffs and quotas on imported goods in order to smoothly become full members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the day the UK leaves the EU. However, the US and six other countries have written to Britain and the EU opposing the Government’s plans on agricultural import quotas. If Britain cannot agree its schedules with every other WTO member state before we leave the EU, we would not be able to trade under the protections of the WTO.

Commenting, Mary Creagh MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said:

“The clock is ticking and unless Liam Fox pulls his finger out, trade deals covering 14% of UK exports will be lost, which risks fatally damaging British jobs, investment and exporting companies.

“Given that he cannot start negotiating new trade deals until his government has decided on a final Brexit deal, Liam Fox should be touring the world making sure the ones we already have remain in place.

“The Prime Minister talks airily about being able to cut and paste from existing deals but her ministers need to speak to the countries involved before Liam Fox gets his scissors out.

“The Government’s promises about Brexit boosting international trade are hollow words, as there is no trade deal which will make up for the economic hit of leaving the Single Market of 500 million people. To protect British jobs and trade, Ministers should focus on staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union. 



Notes to Editors 

  • The Prime Minister has said the Government is “looking at the possibility” of bringing EU trade deals over into “initial trade deals with the UK.”

"When we leave the EU, there are a number of trade deals the EU has with other countries and we are looking at the possibility of those being able to be brought over into certainly initial trade deals with the United Kingdom ... That will give business certainty, which is what business wants."

Theresa May, 30 August 2017

  • David Davis used to promise that the deals would simply carry over automatically without any negotiation:

The truth is existing trade deals with non-EU countries would stay in place until either side wanted to renegotiate
David Davis, Twitter, 26 May 2016

  • On September 9th, a group of over 30 Labour MPs wrote to David Davis demanding an update on how many trade deals have been struck or have even begun. This was to highlight the promise made by the Brexit secretary last year that by 9 September 2018 Britain would step out of the EU and into “a free trade area massively larger than the EU”. 
  • The full list of the 65 countries with which the EU has negotiated free trade agreements follows: Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Faroe Islands, Fiji, FYR Macedonia, Georgia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Iceland, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Namibia, Nicaragua, Norway, Palestinian territories, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, South Africa, South Korea, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Swaziland, Switzerland, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Zimbabwe.
  • In his speech to Conservative Party Conference earlier this week, Fox said: “we have to translate into UK law, the trade agreements that the EU has, with other countries, and to which we are a party. There are around 40 such EU free trade agreements and we have been working to ensure that we continue our trading advantages with important markets, such as Switzerland and South Korea, avoiding any disruption at the point we leave the EU.”