EU Free Trade Agreements

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:40 am on 24th January 2019.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East 10:40 am, 24th January 2019

With just 64 days to go, will the Minister confirm that not only is there the well-known Brexit risk of catastrophic disruption to 44% of our country’s trade, but now, on top of that, a further 12% of our trade could be thrown into chaos because of the Government’s failure to roll over our 40 trade agreements with 70 countries around the rest of the world in time for exit day?

Does the Minister recall the promise made by his Secretary of State at his party conference in October 2017, when he boasted:

“I hear people saying, ‘Oh, we won’t have any’” free trade agreements

“‘before we leave.’
Well, believe me, we’ll have up to 40 ready for one second after midnight in March 2019”?

Was that bragging not made worse when the former trade Minister Lord Price tweeted falsely in October 2017:

“All have agreed roll over”?

Will the Minister explain why expectations were raised so high back then, when today’s reality is so dangerously disappointing? Can he confirm that the leaked memo reported in the Financial Times was accurate, and that he has been warned by his officials that most of the deals Britain is covered by will lapse because there is no transition period to keep Britain under the EU umbrella once Brexit occurs? Does he agree with the Government official quoted in the FT that

“Almost none of them are ready to go now”?

As well as the 40 free trade agreements, there are more than 700 other trade-related treaties and mutual recognition agreements, so when will we get an accurate update from the Government on how many of those will lapse in March as well? Some 2% of our trade is via the European economic area free trade agreement, with Norway and Iceland, which has still not been settled for roll-over; Canada accounts for 1.4% of our trade; Turkey, with which we currently have a form of customs union, accounts for 1.3%; South Korea accounts for 1%; and Switzerland accounts for 3.1%. All these and more add up to £151 billion of export and import markets. Will the Minister confirm that if we do not roll over the trade arrangements we enjoy by virtue of our EU membership, the full range of World Trade Organisation tariffs will start to apply?

What is the real situation in respect of Australia and New Zealand? Are the press claims that a full free trade agreement has been signed accurate, or are these just mutual recognition agreements being passed off as FTAs? On Switzerland, can the Minister place full details of the allegedly initialled agreement in the Library of the House? It is still not clear which aspects of the existing UK-Swiss relationship are due to be replicated. Will UK-based firms continue trading into Switzerland on exactly the same basis, including the free movement of people, or are there differences? For example, can he rule out tariffs on imported Swiss goods from March?

If British cars are exported, could they face 10% WTO tariffs? What will the tariffs be on Norwegian salmon, Canadian maple syrup, and food and veg from Turkey? When will the Government start telling Parliament about these things? Is it not the truth that all these countries first want to know what the UK’s relationship will be with our largest trading partner, the EU, and that we have little hope of pinning down brand new agreements until we have pinned down that agreement? Will the Minister face reality, slay these fantasy unicorn promises, and admit that Brexit is not going well and presents a clear and present danger to the free trade agreements our economy desperately relies on?