Australia and Canada urge UK to join ready made trade deals such as Nafta
by Tim Wallace (feat. John Weekes)
April 26, 2017
Britain should look at joining trade blocs around the world as a quick way to boost free trade after Brexit, with top Australian and Canadian officials proposing the idea as an off-the-shelf way to boost the UK and world economies.
Joining Nafta - the group made up of Canada, Mexico and the US - would give British importers and exporters better access to those markets without a difficult negotiation, as long as the UK is happy to sign up to the deal that already exists. Some British MPs raised the idea last year, meaning it now has backers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Similarly, joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the deal which was due to be implemented between 12 countries including Australia and Japan until Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement, would cut the cost of trading with key nations across the world.
“In many ways it would make a lot of sense for the UK to join Nafta - you wouldn’t have to sit down and work out de novo what a trade agreement with the US would look like, you would start with something that is already there,” said John Weekes, formerly Canada’s chief negotiator at Nafta.
“In many ways it would make sense to think of docking initially with some of these existing agreements rather than starting from the beginning to negotiate a set of free trade agreements,” he told the Prosperity UK conference.
“It would make a lot of sense from a UK perspective to have one agreement with the North American countries rather than three agreements [one per country] especially when those countries have one agreement with each other.”
He was joined by Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer, who said that this idea could be extended to the TPP, which is made up of the Nafta countries plus others around the Pacific, though the US has pulled out.
Since then countries including Japan and Australia have expressed an intention to continue without the US.
“I think the TPP will go ahead, I think Japan’s switch in position is very promising and Prime Minister Abe said he wants the TPP 11 [countries] to go ahead. Could the UK join that? We wouldn't have any objection,” said Mr Downer.
“If you want free trade with us, that is great. How do you achieve that, we are relaxed about that - we wouldn't have any objection in principle to the UK trying to come alongside on the TPP, it is a very high-quality agreement.”
Mr Weekes added: “Why not think of joining that? In many ways the TPP agreement is a modernisation of Nafta as it involves the three Nafta countries.”
They were speaking after a series of former trade negotiators said that they look forward to Britain leaving the EU and becoming an independent voice at the World Trade Organisation, arguing in favour of free trade.
The UK is usually the EU’s most pro-trade member, but is only represented at the EU level where policies are put forward which have to be agreed by all 28 EU members.
Veterans of trade talks hope that a separate UK voice can revitalise the WTO and give more impetus to moves to promote trade, particularly in services.
“The WTO has plateaued because it hasn't got the kind of leadership and innovative thinking that will take it to the next level,” said Crawford Falconer, a professor and the former ambassador to the WTO for New Zealand. "The UK now has a unique opportunity, within the WTO, to provide economic leadership for the world trade agenda - and my God, doesn’t the world need that right now.
“Many of the leading economies in the world has lost the plot. An economy like the UK is going to be an independent and powerful voice for reform and change in the global economy, and that is going to be a massively refreshing political voice in Geneva [at the WTO’s headquarters].”