As the next round of Brexit talks resume in Brussels today, businesses and the trade industry have been digesting the contents of the UK's post-Brexit trade strategy, set out in parliament this week.
On Tuesday, the House of Commons gave the Trade Bill 2017-19 – the government's post-Brexit trade policy – its first reading, which means it was read out but not debated. The bill's purpose is to set out how the UK's trade activities will continue smoothly for the next two years, bridging the transition, in March 2019, when Britain will no longer be a member of the European Union. The bill includes the implementation of international trade agreements, the approach to managing trade-related data, as well as establishing a trade remedies authority and determining how that body will function.
Specifically, the bill includes provisions for the UK to implement 40 existing EU trade agreements and help ensure firms can still access foreign government contracts worth £1.3 trillion, ministers told BBC News. It also sets out plans for the UK to become an independent member of the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA). This is a World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement that regulates the government procurement of goods and services by public authorities. The UK became a member through the European Union in 1996 but it will have to rejoin as a separate entity after March 2019. The Trade Bill doesn't include proposals for trade taxes and tariffs, as they will be included in a separate customs bill to be published at a later date.
Trade Bill criticised
The bill, which covered 20 pages, was described by TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady as “ramshackle”, while Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil called the bill “disappointingly brief”. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, sponsor of the bill, said its aim was to “provide as much stability as possible” for businesses on the day Britain leaves the EU and to “prevent market instability”.
CTMfile take: Some might say the problem is that “as much stability as possible” (in response to Liam Fox's hopes for the Trade Bill) is just not good enough. Companies need full reassurance there will be minimal disruption to trade and supply chains – because they are operating in an environment that's already contending with destabilising factors such as currency fluctuation and political uncertainty impacting employment and investment.
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