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In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express, international trade secretary Liz Truss said there is every reason to be optimistic about the UK’s long term future with countries lining up to make agreements.
Hot from agreeing a deal with Japan which will boost trade by £15.2 billion, Ms Truss said that another blockbuster deal is “just months away” with Australia while significant progress has been made with the USA and New Zealand.
Significantly, the UK is on the verge of joining one of the world’s biggest trade blocs, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – one of the fastest economic growth areas in the world – thanks to the agreement with Japan.
Other rollover deals from the EU in the pipeline include ones with Canada, Vietnam and Singapore.
Ms Truss said that Britain is on course for being a world hub for free trade boosting businesses across the country.
Her message of optimism comes as Boris Johnson yesterday told Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, that time is running out for a trade deal with the UK.
The state of trade talks and the speed in which the Japan deal was agreed have boosted the government’s confidence that a deal with the EU is not essential.
In a Zoom call the Prime Minister warned Ms van der Leyen that Britain will stick by its October 15 deadline and is relaxed about trading on Australian terms with no formal deal.
According to Downing Street, the two leaders agreed that “progress had been made in recent weeks but that significant gaps remained, notably but not only in the areas of fisheries, the level playing field, and governance.”
Ms Truss dismissed the Remainer “naysayers” who she said seemed to believe that a deal with the EU was more important than anything else and should exclude other trade deals.
She accused them of “making a false choice”.
“First of all we want to get a deal with the EU as well. It is perfectly possible. I don’t see this as an ‘either or’ it’s an ‘and’.”
Ms Truss also dismissed claims that a Joe Biden victory in the Presidential election will kill off hopes of a trade deal because of pressure from the EU over Ireland.
“We are completely committed to the Good Friday Agreement so we can address all the concerns that have been raised. During the talks I have been having, as well as talking to my counterparts in the trade department, I have also been talking to the Democrats and Republicans.
“That’s clearly important because every deal has to be passed through Congress and there is strong cross party support for a deal with the UK.
“People recognise that we are a high standard country, we are not going to be undercutting US workers, we are not going to be posing a threat to US manufacturing, we are complimentary countries who already do a lot of business together.
“So I think the Americans are as excited about the opportunities for that as we are.”
She also noted that the US is keen to link the world’s two biggest financial services centres in the City of London and New York.
A deal with the US will boost trade annually by an estimated £15.3 billion and wages by £1.8 billion particularly benefiting Scotland, the North East and the Midlands.
Currently UK companies pay £500 million in tariffs to the US which she wants ended.
She highlighted dinner plates with a 28 percent tariff into the US.
“With dinner plates we have got places like Stoke on Trent who have got some of the best manufacturers in the world with places like Wedgewood.
“We particularly want those unfair tariffs removed on Scotch whisky.”
The senior minister also revelled in her success with Japan which also defied claims by Remainers that Britain would be mired in talks for years.
The deal has been a major boost for businesses in Scotland, the East Midlands, and London already.
“People said we couldn’t get a trade deal with Japan and we couldn’t do it quickly but they also said that we would get worse terms than the EU in fact we got better terms.
“So whether it is for British tech companies, British creative industries, financial services, business people travelling to and from Japan and of course the recognition of 70 geographical indicators across Britain, so that is from Cornish cottage cream to the Stornoway black pudding will now be recognised in Japan.
“It really is a very positive deal. I think what shows is that we can do things differently from the EU, we can go further and faster than the EU and we also have got a more open approach to trade.”
One area of growth is services which is potentially so big the government does not actually have an accurate figure on it so Ms Truss has asked Tony Venables at Oxford University to carry out a study.
“Britain is the second largest services exporter in the world and we have been held back by being part of the EU because they didn’t want those types of deals in services and now we can really unleash the potential of those fantastic British industries whether it’s computer gaming, financial services, our brilliant creative industries, technology as well as all the traditional British products, the manufactured goods which get a tariff reduction and of course the food and drink people like to enjoy the world over.”
She pointed out that the other “really important point about the Japan deal” is that they are committing us to access to the TPP.
The big free trade area covers 11 countries all the way from Mexico, Peru to Vietnam and Malaysia where UK companies already do over £110 billion of business.
She argued that bringing down trade barriers will enable Britain to trade its way to recovery after coronavirus.
“As we recover from coronavirus we are going to see suppressed demand so it is really important that we as Britain get a bigger slice of the global pie.”
Asked if we can trade our way to recovery, she said: “Yes. We are trading nation, two thirds of our economy is trade, imports and exports, so the answer is to be selling more of our products overseas.
“That’s what the future looks like for Britain, that’s how we are going to pay our way in the world.”
She added: “My aim is for us to be a hub at the centre of trade networks around the world, giving our businesses access to those markets and making us a great trading nation which we always have been and we have even more opportunity to realise that.”
She acknowledged that there will be “tough times ahead” because of Covid-19.
“But I do think the long term future for Britain is positive. I am optimistic about the future.”
And she believes that people in Britain will “absolutely” see the benefits of Brexit soon.
Ms Truss also hailed her predecessor Liam Fox’s bid to become the new head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
“Again lots of people said he wouldn’t get through the first round. There were lots of naysayers and he’s proved them all wrong.
“He’s also got the belief in free trade which is so important. What we can’t have after this coronavirus crisis is protectionism, countries turning in on themselves, we need more trade. Liam is a huge proponent of that. There’s all to play for.”
She said his success would help sort out the problem of China breaking the rules.
“China has not followed the rules, whether that is in fourth technology transfer, subsidies for state owned enterprises, IT issues. That is why we need to reform the WTO to make sure it is fair trade as well as free trade.
“The WTO rule book hasn’t been updated since 1995 when the internet was hardly in existence. We are now in a world with digital and data and it has not caught up with that.”
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