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LONDON – Britain is trying to negotiate post-Brexit trade deals that typically take years in less than 12 months – and businesses and unions fear it is preparing for a case.
Over the past year, Britain has sought to maintain its trade relations and to sign over 63 agreements in which it was already a member of the EU. Now it’s a “sprint” to get a deal with Australia ahead of the G7 summit in June. Talks about this began less than a year ago.
At the same time, Britain is “stepping up” negotiations with New Zealand and juggling preparations to join a trading bloc of 11 nations – while talks with India and several others are scheduled for later this year.
The pace of negotiations and the number of ongoing deals leave companies, working groups and experts watching with a mixture of skepticism and concern. The deals, they say, have to be carefully negotiated so that they stand the test of time and don’t come back to bite the UK.
“There is more than a hint of despair now than Boris [Johnson] and his ambitious Trade Secretary Liz Truss are trying to demonstrate that there will be a post-Brexit dividend, ”Mike Rann, Australia’s former High Commissioner for Great Britain, told POLITICO.
Rann said the UK is still “struggling with the post-Brexit terms negotiated by Johnson in the EU Withdrawal Agreement” and warns that “farmers and unions want more than the substantive trappings of new trade deals”.
Ad hoc or thin consultations on the EU deal and the fact that bodies to examine new trade deals have either not been set up or are allowed to see the full text bode well, said those POLITICO spoke to.
In the past week alone, farmers across the UK have warned that provisions in the UK’s much-hoped-for deal with Australia will set a precedent for other negotiations that could decimate their industries in the long run.
These groups argue that the right balance in trade is vital to avoid political backlash in the future. But balancing is difficult when you’re in a hurry.
“In our view, it takes time to get it right,” said a senior member of the UK business community. As with the upcoming reforms at the World Trade Organization, they declared, “They will not do it twice.”
It is important that Great Britain “does not rush negotiations” and “therefore weaken our negotiating positions too much”. They called Truss’ plan to reach an agreement in principle with Australia ahead of the G7 summit in June “an ambitious timeframe”.
Similar deals usually take at least a few years or more to negotiate. A major concern of UK companies, said another senior business leader, is that the UK is “only trying to enter into those trade deals because of the political importance of trade deals”.
It was “not helpful,” they said, that the government continued to time-limit the negotiations. In January, a Truss ally told the Sun that an agreement with New Zealand would be in place by Easter. That date is long gone. The person said that he would rush to get trades across the line, “will lead to bad deals rather than good”.
Apart from Australia and New Zealand, negotiations are imminent to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP) with 11 nations. As if that weren’t enough, the Commerce Department on Tuesday launched public consultations for negotiations with India this fall. Talks on new agreements will also begin this year with Canada and Mexico (two CPTPP nations), and a deal with a six nation bloc in the Middle East is “in the pipeline”. An agreement with Israel has been initiated and there are plans for South America.
Companies are “only keeping an eye on the number of trade deals currently in progress,” said the first company leader, noting that the agenda was already “a lot of work”. Part of their hesitation concerns capacity, they said, explaining that “a lot of resources have been shifted to India” and a trade deal has been signed there.
Public consultation is also the key to balanced agreements that are supported by voters, argue both corporate groups and organized workers. The speed with which the government is negotiating when it lacks the “machinery to consult,” said Rosa Crawford, trade policy officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC), “means they are likely to ram those deals.” by.”
“What’s driving this hurry?” asks Crawford. “It just feels like it’s for the symbolism” to get a deal outside the EU, she said, instead of asking, “Is it worth it? or are there any negative aspects of the introduction? ”
Consultations with trade unions, employers and other civil society groups need to be extensive in order to reach the right agreements, she argues. Premature negotiations meant that Britain had little time to “use its leverage to insist on respect for human rights or labor rights”.
A spokesman for the Ministry of International Trade said, “As the International Trade Minister has clearly stated, we will not sacrifice quality for speed” and insisted that any business “is fair and balanced, works for producers and consumers and is at its best”. UK interests. “
Deals can boomerang politically if they don’t find a balance, experts say. The alleged failure of trade pacts in favor of workers was one of Donald Trump’s key messages in his 2016 US election campaign. A review of Trump’s public statements from January 2016 until his November 8 election shows that he mentioned NAFTA at least 531 times and called it “the worst economic deal in our country’s history” that either destroyed jobs or sent them abroad. He called the Trans-Pacific Partnership “a disaster” and warned that it would do the same – ultimately undo the deal in his early days in office.
Trump was able to use the public backlash to stop the TPP deal, said Chris Southworth, secretary general of the UK’s International Chamber of Commerce. The backlash from British farmers against the deal with Australia is a prime example of “what it looks like in practice if you don’t do it right,” added Southworth.
If British farmers and fishermen are sacrificed without sound governance, advice and transparency in deals, “it only confuses everyone and creates more division and anger,” argued Southworth. This “really doesn’t help when you’re trying to get deals,” he added, “because people remember it and when the next deal comes it will be twice as difficult.” Other nations, he said, are also watching and expecting the same market access.
Southworth warned that the current Department of Commerce consultation forums mean that “no one sees any material text in draft trade negotiations,” which severely penalizes companies and other groups “compared to competitors who see” [the] Text.”
The government argues that its deal control mechanisms are robust, transparent, and just as strong as in other parliamentary democracies. It argues that it carried out extensive economic scoping assessments of its agreement with Australia and set out its negotiating objectives prior to the talks.
“The UK economy wants a good long-term trade deal, not one that looks good only on the day of a silly ‘Britain is back’ announcement,” said former Australian High Commissioner Rann. The government’s “desperate rush” to reach an agreement, he said, “should get business to see the fine print, or better still, before an agreement is signed.”
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