Liz Truss says ‘Britain is back’ as she launches formal bid to join major post-Brexit Pacific trade pact
The International Trade Secretary accused Labour of ‘ trying to do down our efforts to secure trade agreements’. (Parliamentlive.tv)
Liz Truss has declared that “Britain is back” as she confirmed the Government is formally pressing ahead with a bid to join a major trade tie-up with Canada, Australia and New Zealand after Brexit.
The International Trade Secretary confirmed that the UK was “moving to the formal stage” of its efforts to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) once it leaves the EU.
But Labour accused the Government of focusing on far-flung global deals while future trade with Europe remains "hanging in the balance".
The CPTPP agreement between Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam aims to create a single trading bloc, ditching 99% of tariffs between the countries.
Britain has already been involved in exploratory talks with the bloc’s members, while Ms Truss — whose department is also focused on striking a trade deal with the United States — on Wednesday kicked off talks with Australia and New Zealand on post-Brexit ties.
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, the Cabinet minister declared the start of negotiations with Australia and New Zealand as a “historic moment for this country”.
“When we left the EU, we did so on the promise of trading more with friends and allies across the world.
“Deals with Australia and New Zealand, are a powerful expression of our newfound independence and our intent to build a global Britain.”
And she added: “I say to our old friends, Britain is back.”
Ms Truss said deals with the two nations would represent “a key step towards membership” of the CPTPP, which she hailed as “one of the largest free trade agreements in the world”.
And she confirmed: “Both Australia and New Zealand support our membership. And today we have formally announced our intention to pursue accession to the agreement.
“We do so for three reasons. Firstly to secure more trade and investment to help our economy overcome the challenges posed by coronavirus.
“Hitching ourselves to the fastest-growing parts of the world will help deliver on the growth and prosperity we urgently need.
“Secondly, it will help diversify our trade and supply chains to make our economy more resilient and open up new export opportunities and industries like tech and digital food and drink and automotive.
“Thirdly, it's an important part of our strategy to turn the UK into a global trading hub.
Ms Truss declared: “Joining the agreement would show the rest of the world we are back as a proud independent nation prepared to look far beyond our own shores."
But her Labour opposite number Emily Thornberry questioned the focus on building trade ties outside the EU while talks on a deal with the bloc remain deadlocked.
“I'm all for expanding the 0.3% of our global trade that we share with Malaysia and Brunei, which is all this statement ultimately amounts to today,” she said.
“But when the 47% of our trade that depends on Europe is still hanging in the balance, then that is where the government's priorities should lie.”
And said that while announcement may sound “like it deserves the fanfare that the Secretary of State has given it today”, Britain already had free trade agreements in place with seven of those countries because of its EU membership.
“That's Japan, Canada, Singapore, Mexico Chile, Peru and Vietnam,” the Shadow International Trade Secretary said.
“And [for] two of those — Chile and Peru, rollover deals are in place to continue free trade beyond December, and the other five bilateral negotiations are still ongoing to get rollover deals agreed.
“So that's seven out of the 11 taken care of.”
'PRICE, CHOICE AND SAFETY'
Labour is also pressing the Government for a string of answers on whether the deals could open up public services to greater private sector involvement and whether they will see a loosening of environmental and consumer standards.
Ms Thornberry asked: “Can the Government guarantee a blanket exception for our NHS and, and for other essential public services?”
Hitting back, Ms Truss accused Labour of “trying to do down our efforts to secure trade agreements with the vast majority of the world”.
“It is only the Labour Party that could call a trade area where the UK currently has £110 billion pounds worth of trade ‘low value’,” the International Trade Secretary said.
The Commons exchange came as consumer group Which? demanded that any deal with Australia and New Zealand maintain the “high standards” and protections currently in force in the UK.
“There are many potential benefits to be gained from trade deals with Australia and New Zealand,” the group’s head of consumer protection, Sue Davies, said.
But she added: “Ultimately, their success will be judged by the impact they have on the price, choice and safety of products and services we use every day so any deals must reflect consumers' expectations.
"We know people value the UK's high standards and protections and expect them to be maintained, so the Government must ensure they are not undermined by trade deals that could allow inferior or unsafe food or products to enter the country or weaken consumer rights."