DIT warned not to become 'stretched too thin' as it pushes to secure more trade deals

Thu 9 Dec 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

The Department for International Trade (DIT) has been warned not to allow its trade deal negotiators to be “stretched too thin” in a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

Since the UK completed its departure from the EU in 2020, DIT has taken charge of leading the country’s negotiations for new post-Brexit trade deals. It agreed a landmark deal with Japan in September 2020 and has since secured deals in principle with Australia and New Zealand.

It also negotiated ‘rollover deals’ to maintain pre-existing preferential trade arrangements with countries such as Canada and South Korea that the UK previously had as a member of the EU.

Successful

The NAO’s report, published on Wednesday (8 December), said DIT had “successfully led the delivery of a challenging and intense programme of trade negotiations to a tight timeframe”.

It also found that two thirds (64%) of total UK trade is covered by free trade agreements.

Gareth Davies, the auditor general at the NAO, said: “The Department for International Trade has built its capacity to lead a challenging and intense programme of trade negotiations to a tight timeframe.”

Reap benefits

Davies added that DIT now needs to “ensure that the deals it is pursuing deliver real benefits to businesses, consumers and the UK economy”.

The Independent reports that Meg Hillier MP, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, has warned the department to not become “stretched too thin” and that it “needs to ensure it puts enough effort into ensuring the UK can reap real benefits from these deals”.

Strategy

Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, went further, telling the Evening Standard: “Ministers must get a grip of this and act urgently. Promoting British jobs and standards around the world should be a top priority.”

Angus Brendan MacNeil, chairman of the International Trade Committee, also said: “As a committee, we’ve called on the government to publish a full strategy for its international trade negotiations, outlining the overarching aims and objectives of the UK’s trading approach.”

A DIT spokesperson pointed out to Global Trade Review that the government has recently published its export strategy and this “will help businesses take full advantage of the opportunities that our independent trade strategy offers”.

Future deals

As well as finalising deals that the government has agreed in principle with Australia and New Zealand, the same spokesperson said the UK is launching negotiations with India, Mexico, Canada and the Gulf in 2022. It is also in negotiations to join CPTPP – the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership of 11 nations.

“2022 will be a five-star year for UK trade,” they said.

You can read the latest news about the UK’s post-Brexit trade negotiations here.