Shadow business and trade secretary calls for quality over quantity in trade deal negotiations

Thu 16 Nov 2023
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Johnathon Reynolds official portrait

Shadow business and trade secretary Jonathan Reynolds has said a Labour government would pursue fewer trade deals and criticised the Conservatives for adopting a “scattergun” approach to negotiations.

Speaking in Canary Wharf, London, the MP said his party would be a “willing partner” in talks with India, but would conduct negotiations with multiple countries at one time.

"I don't think you can find another example of a country negotiating so much simultaneously, and you have to wonder about the impact that has on the overall quality," he said, according to Reuters.

Quality over quantity

The UK has been able to negotiate its own trade deals since leaving the EU and rolled over 70 agreements from its time as an EU member state.

It has since signed eight fresh agreements, six of which have entered force, including the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. It also agreed accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Negotiations are ongoing with six countries and blocs, according to gov.uk, but Reynolds has argued that the government should focus “more on the quality” than the quantity of talks.

Deal specifics

"The specifics of finishing those deals depends on where they are, but I think focusing more on the quality of what we're seeking to achieve in each of these negotiations is a far better objective than the kind of scattergun strategy we see today," he said.

Reynolds also announced a new taskforce to eliminate trade barriers for small businesses and called for improved trade relations with the EU, the FT reports.

Grace Thompson, the Institute of Export & International Trade’s (IOE&IT) UK public affairs lead, commented that Reynolds’ speech gave a fuller picture of Labour’s future vision for trade policy. She said:

“It was encouraging to see an emphasis within the speech on supporting small businesses to export and dissipating perceptions that exporting is only for large companies.

Linked to this, it was interesting to see his argument for a stronger narrative to be developed when we are delivering messaging to the rest of the world about why the UK is an attractive investment prospect and trading partner.”

She added:

“Businesses will, no doubt, be considering ways in which they can engage with Labour in anticipation of a potential future trade white paper.

“The Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade encouraged businesses to be involved in shaping this, so that they can have future confidence when exploring new markets."

Hawkish on China

Reynolds also commented on this week’s shock return of former prime minister David Cameron to the cabinet, saying that the new foreign secretary had shown “incredible naivety towards China” during his time in Downing Street.

“Chinese investment simply cannot be treated in the same way we would with other countries,” the Telegraph reports him as saying.

He said a Labour government would “challenge where necessary, cooperate where you can”.

Picture: Official Parliament portrait .