Post-Brexit UK trade policy

01 Feb, 2021

Now the UK has its own national trade policy let’s get it right. Rolling over EU agreements is important, but it is the easy bit. Beyond that, a focus on traditional goods-oriented Free Trade Agreements will be too narrow. We should be smart and innovative when exploring post-Brexit trade policy.  

Trade policy does not exist in a vacuum. Trade strategy should be integral to domestic economic & industrial policy, and also wider foreign policy. Trade is intensely political at home (NHS, food standards) & abroad (Saudi Arabia, China). Public support needs rebuilding. 

Trade is done by businesses. UK based businesses will succeed if they are productive and competitive. Government can support them through investment, infrastructure, tax regimes, regulation & incentives, but we must comply with rules in markets we export to.  

We need some strategic choices about our economy, and technologies & sectors where we expect to specialise & build comparative advantage. An evidence-based strategy should underpin trade negotiations that target our strengths. 

We should prioritise markets that matter most: the EU and US remain by far our most important trade partners. Elsewhere we need clear analysis of where significant or fast gains can be made. Policy on China must rigorously balance risk and opportunity.  

It is also important to find new ways of advancing trade in areas like services, e-commerce, data, intellectual property, investment, procurement that are weak in current FTAs. Our trade agenda must also support priorities on climate, sustainability, and health. 

Multilateral trade rules preserve fair markets. We should continue to champion the WTO and its reform. We also need to defend UK companies against unfair competition with effective, WTO compliant national trade defence instruments. 

Flint Managing Partner Simon Fraser is a Former Head of the UK Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service. Read more about how Flint can support your business navigate the unpredictable domestic and global trade landscape here:  

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