The Department for International Trade is to base its post-Brexit trade watchdog in the Berkshire county town of Reading, it has announced.
Trade minister Greg Hands did not give a precise location for the Trade Remedies Authority’s headquarters, or a likely number of staff that it would employ to police uncompetitive practices such as the “dumping” of foreign products below their real value, and unexpected surges of imports.
However last month he told MPs that the organisation would have an annual budget of £15-20m and said the 100 staff members currently working on fair trade within the European Commission’s DG Trade would “give some early indication of the sort of size” DIT was thinking about. Job advertisements published last year suggested the authority would have around 130 employees.
Fair trade issues are currently overseen on an EU-wide basis, but after Brexit the UK will again be responsible for tackling restrictive and uncompetitive practices that affect domestic companies. Remedies can include the imposition of tariffs.
Picking Reading as a base for the TRA meets Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore’s 2017 pledge that all of the new government bodies created as a result of Brexit would be based outside London. But it does not entirely tally with a Conservative Party commitment from last year’s general election to relocate civil servants away from the South East region.
Hands said that leaving the European Union would give the nation an “opportunity to build new trade links and reach those markets where demand for UK goods and services are growing” but that safeguarding UK business was DIT’s “first priority”.
“With its university, leading businesses and transport links – Reading is the ideal place to host the Trade Remedies Authority to ensure that our future trade is seizing global growth, while supporting jobs at home,” he said.
Last month DIT perm sec Antonia Romeo secured a ministerial direction to approve close on £9m of funding to set up the TRA in advance of the passage into law of the Trade Bill, which would give the move statutory footing.
“Delaying this spend until the underpinning legislation is in place – as set out in the new services rules within Managing Public Money – would jeopardise the department's preparation for the UK's exit from the EU with implications for our future trade policy,” she said.
Romeo said the funding – which would amount to around six months budget for the new authority by Hands’ reckoning – would cover board appointments including a chair, staff, estates, infrastructure and IT, training, digital, and the cost of consultants to assist with the set up. DIT said the authority would be in place in time for Brexit in May 2019.