The Department for International Trade has been instructed to ensure that any future trade deal the UK enters into aids the government’s levelling up agenda, in addition to being both “values-driven and values generating”.
In a speech to a global trade conference hosted by think-tank Chatham House, international trade secretary Liz Truss set out her ambitions for the nation's post-Brexit trading approach.
Truss told the event that officials had been told to forge “Britain-shaped” deals that suited the country’s strengths and underscored it free-trading history. She added that she this month urged her newly-appointed Board of Trade to channel the free-trade passion of 19th century figures Richard Cobden, Robert Peel and John Bright.
“Trade is too often seen as a bogeyman to blame for many problems, whether that be global warming, deindustrialisation, and even childhood obesity,” Truss said. “Critics forget that trade does a world of good.
“Free trade is a lean, green, value-creating machine. It has lifted billions out of poverty across the world, led to a cleaner environment and put food on people’s plates. It helps developing, and developed, nations alike.”
Truss said no nation on Earth was currently working on more trade agreements than the UK, and that DIT officials were working day and night to create a “cat’s cradle of trade deals” across the Atlantic and Pacific, all of them with the UK at their heart.
“We are seeking what I’ve come to call ‘British-shaped’ deals, because they are shaped to suit the strengths of our economy, to support our values, and to show what more we can achieve as a newly independent nation,” she said.
“These agreements also protect us against protectionism, shielding businesses from arbitrary tariffs, or arbitrary bans from foreign authorities.”
Truss said the government’s “red lines” for future deals under its values-driven approach were primarily that the NHS was “off the table”; food standards must not be undermined; British farming must benefit; and that “any trade deal must help level up our country”.
Truss said that although the government had legislated to ban the import of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef – following fears a US trade deal would dilute UK food standards – she insisted that there would not be a new era of protectionism.
“I can assure anyone worried about such food entering our markets that our standards are not up for grabs,” she said.
“But we cannot have blanket bans on any food produced differently from the UK, which would have a devastating effect on economies which we want to see benefit from free trade.”
Truss said that after signing a trade deal with Japan deal earlier this month the UK was onto its fifth round of talks with the US, nearing its third round with Australia and a continuity deal with Canada, finishing its second round with New Zealand and in “full flow” with a variety of other partners.
The EU transition period formally finishes at the end of December , ending the trading arrangements the UK enjoyed as a member of the European Union but allowing new deals to be enacted.
It is currently unclear whether a future trade deal between the UK and the European Union will be in place to take effect from 1 January 2021.