Government looking for 'swift' progress on global trade talks, says DIT perm sec

Written by Richard Johnstone on 5 September 2017 in News
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Antonia Romeo tells CSW that the government is looking for areas where “win-win” deals can be reached quickly

Antonia Romeo photographed for CSW by Louise Haywood-Schiefer

The permanent secretary at the Department for International Trade has told Civil Service World that trade deals the UK signs after Brexit will not be “one-size-fits-all” but will be based on identifying areas where deals can be done “swiftly”.

In an interview with CSW, Antonia Romeo said that the DIT was working closely with the Department for Exiting the European Union on the UK’s post-Brexit trading relationship, but added that it was “simplistic” to say the deal with the EU would be a template for the UK’s future trade deals elsewhere.


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It was reported today that a senior official in the Department for International Trade told the Guardian that Britain does not have the capacity to individually negotiate new trade deals with all the EU’s existing partners, meaning it would pursue a strategy involving “copy and paste” versions of current EU deals.

It was announced last week that Britain and Japan would use Japan’s deal with the EU as the basis for its own agreement, and the government has said it wants to replicate other external EU trade deals in time for Britain’s March 2019 exit and then adjust them over time.

“We can’t do 40 FTAs (Free Trade Agreements), we haven’t got the capacity to do that,” the official said.

International trade secretary Liam Fox also confirmed the government is preparing to duplicate deals which already exist until they can be updated at a later date.

“There are a number of countries who said they would like to move directly to a new free-trade agreement but we have said we are simply unable to do that at the moment,” Fox told Politico. “It requires the willingness of the country involved to want to move the process further on and it’s dependent on our own capacity in our own department.”

Speaking to CSW for an interview to be published in full this month, Romeo acknowledged the department, which has increased the size of its trade policy group from 45 to 300 people, was “not thinking that there are going to be a huge number of trade deals tomorrow”.

However, she insisted progress was being made on new deals with countries outside the EU.

“We will, in the period of transition [from the EU], be able to talk to countries," said Romeo. “We’re already talking about potential new market access arrangements.”

These are areas where DIT will aim to make progress in advance of the UK’s exit, by looking at ways in which collaboration could happen quickly, she said.

“There are some fruitful areas for potential early agreement, and there are others where it is going to take us a while to work up with countries to where we might want to get to,” Romeo says.“ We are not focusing just on the idea of doing the deal, it is about looking at a whole raft of ways we can increase market access with non-EU countries, and in some areas we actually already have competence to do that.

“The things you look at in trade deals are the economies, the current situation in terms of the similarity of your regulations but also the current trade position. So I don’t think we are looking at a one-size-fits-all approach, it will be about discovering which areas are really fertile, where we could get agreement swiftly and where there is a win-win.”

Additional reporting by Agnes Chambre

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Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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