Britain will strike ‘at least two major trade deals’ during Brexit transition

Trade agreements during EU exit transition “very doable”, according to DExEU source​

Photo: DIT

Britain will have at least two major trade deals ready to go when the Brexit transition period ends in 2020, according to government sources.

The Department for International Trade is set to begin negotiating global trade deals in March next year when the UK officially leaves the EU, but will not be able to implement them until the handover period ends in December 2020.

The Department for International Trade has already started the process by setting up working groups with more than 20 countries across the world — including the US, New Zealand and Australia.


A source close to the department told The Sun: “I’d expect a minimum of two new trade deals to be ready to implement on January 1st 2021. That’s very doable”.

The comments come after DIT permanent secretary Antonia Romeo told Civil Service World last September that the department was already talking about potential new market access arrangements.

These are areas where DIT will aim to make progress ahead of the full range of negotiation powers, by looking at where agreements could happen quickly, Romeo told CSW then.

“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 where we might want to get to,” she said. “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.”

A Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “Our priority is to secure continuity in the UK’s international trade arrangements as we leave the EU.
“We are working with a number of other countries to explore the best ways to develop our current trade and investment relationships and ensure that Britain becomes a global leader in free trade.”

DIT also yesterday made two appointments of new HM trade commissioners. Judith Slater has been appointed as HMTC for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, while Joanna Crellin will oversee trade between the UK and Latin America.

Romeo said she was delighted to welcome them to their new roles.

“DIT’s network of HMTCs is the latest example of how we are building a best-in-class international economic department, generating prosperity at home by growing exports, attracting investment and developing our trade policy.”

The report on trade deals comes as the parliamentary select committee examining Brexit set out 15 tests by which to judge the Brexit deal between the UK and the European Union, including no tariffs on trade between the UK and the EU 27, and no additional border or rules of origin checks that would delay the delivery of perishable or time-sensitive deliveries, and no additional costs to businesses that trade in goods or services.

The other tests include that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland must remain open with no physical infrastructure or any related checks and controls, as well as institutional frameworks to maintain cooperation on tackling crime and terrorism.

Committee chair Hilary Benn said that the committee wanted to offer a series of tests against which any deal reached must be judged.

“Our tests set a high bar but they are based on the prime minister's vision for our future outside the EU and the statement by the secretary of state for exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, that any new deal would be at least as good as what we have now. It is vital that UK businesses are able to continue to trade freely and sell services into our largest market after we leave, without additional costs or burdens or a hard border in Northern Ireland, and that we maintain close co-operation on defence, security, data and information sharing and consumer safety,” he said.

Benn added that should negotiations on a specific 'deep and special partnership' between the UK and the EU not prove successful, then UK membership of either the European Free Trade Area or the European Economic Area should remain options. The government has said that it is seeking a bespoke arrangement, but Benn said “we consider that EFTA/EEA membership remains an alternative which would have the advantage of continuity of access for UK services and could also be negotiated relatively quickly”.

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