In order to continue trading on preferential terms with the third-party counties concerned after a no-deal Brexit, the UK must replicate all EU free trade agreements which it currently benefits from.
The UK is currently party to 40 or so trade agreements that the EU has with some 70 countries, accounting for over 14% of UK trade.
The International Trade Committee has been closely monitoring the Government’s progress on ‘rolling over’ these agreements, and today the Chair has written to the Secretary of State for International Trade, Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP, to stress that a substantial number of negotiations are now at ‘code red’ – with failure to agree them by March 29 (which is still the default Brexit date) now almost certain.
The letter presses for an update on the Government’s progress and includes a ‘traffic-light’ coded table showing the current status of the agreements. The table shows where the Government is on-track (green), off-track (yellow) or significantly off-track (red). Grey indicates those agreements that will definitely not be rolled over in time for 29 March – including those with key partners Japan and Turkey.
The letter also express concern that, instead of redoubling its efforts to roll over these agreements, DIT has in fact paused most work on roll-over and redeployed many of its staff to cover other areas of no-deal planning.
Commenting on the letter, Chair of the Committee, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, said:
“Hopes of a new, post-Brexit era of international trade appear increasingly forlorn, thanks to the Government’s slapdash approach to rolling over the free trade agreements the UK currently benefits from as a member of the EU. So far, only eight of around 40 agreements have been rolled over, which between them cover just 3% of UK trade.
The table I have attached on the Government’s progress with roll-over shows a sea of red, with warning signs on every page. With two weeks until the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, Liam Fox and his Department continue to flounder, whilst businesses, consumers and workers face continued uncertainty.
Despite Liam Fox's promise of trade agreements being rolled over one minute past midnight on 29 March, it looks like he has given up with two weeks to go and diverted much-needed resources away from trade negotiations at this crucial moment. With so little time remaining, the table I have presented to the Secretary of State shows how woefully unprepared for Brexit we really are.”