The Year in Trade: Windsor Framework, trade deals and tariff spats

Fri 22 Dec 2023
Posted by: Benjamin Roche
Trade News

It’s been a year of major moments: the agreement of the Windsor Framework between the UK and the EU, the imposition of tariffs on goods from the US to China and, of course, the launch of The Week in Trade. As the year draws to a close, we’re taking a look back at some of those milestones.

The big picture: The announcement of the Windsor Framework’s agreement at the end of February was a major coup for prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who said at the time it would deliver “smooth flowing trade within the whole UK, protect[ing] Northern Ireland’s place in our Union and safeguard[ing] sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland”.

A report released in March said the measures were an “improvement” on the Northern Ireland Protocol, but that the red lane provision – which came into force at the start of October – could be “more burdensome” than the Protocol had been.

It has also been a source of ongoing controversy in Northern Ireland, where there has yet to be a restoration of devolved powers following the end of a power-sharing agreement after a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) walkout over the initial Protocol.

Good year/bad year: It was in many ways a good year for free trade: the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) received a boost by admitting its first European member, the UK. The EU and US has also managed in recent days to extend their truce over a long-running steel and aluminium tariff dispute.

But in other ways it was also a bad year for free trade, with tariffs abounding. From China’s export controls on graphite to Indonesia’s ban on TikTok e-commerce, plenty of barriers were thrown up (or failed to come down) in 2023. A continuing dispute between the EU and China over the latter’s alleged subsidies for its electric vehicle (EV) industry is now being echoed by the US, where some are calling for a tariff hike on Chinese EVs.

How’s stat? 3.9% – the rate of inflation as of this week. In January, the rate was 10.1% according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The fall is larger than expected and has triggered a drop in the value of the pound and a boost to the UK stock market.

The year in customs: Having announced its new Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) in the spring, in August the government announced a delay to the introduction of the new rules, with new checks on live animals, animal products, plants and plant products moved from late 2023 to January 31 2024.

As Institute of Export and International Trade (IOE&IT) senior trade and customs specialist Anna Doherty said in a recent IOE&IT webinar, there are going to be “a lot of changes” in 2024.

Quote of the year: “The UK is home to the most advanced ecommerce market in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. Our new E-Commerce Trade Commission is going to build on that position and bring government and business together identifying clear and deliverable changes to boost UK ecommerce trade.”

Business and trade secretary, Kemi Badenoch, speaking at the launch of the IOE&IT-convened E-Commerce Trade Commission in June.

What else we covered this year: It was also a year of big moments for IOE&IT, with the inaugural Import Export Show hosting speakers including Baroness Neville-Rolfe, who said “we are seizing [a] joint opportunity to improve everything about borders: not just what comes through them, but how those goods enter and leave our shores”.

The Import Export Show also saw the first International Trade Awards, where firms from Ubloquity to EziDrops took home gongs – and told us about how they did it.

Read the review of our biggest stories from 2023 to see what else we covered.

True facts: As we head off into Christmas, here are some fascinating seasonal facts, courtesy of Peak.AI: 10 million turkeys are eaten at this time of year in the UK, but Christmas also produces an estimated 230,000 tonnes of waste, including 7.5 million mince pies. We pull 300 million crackers and consume 250 million pints of beer, the equivalent of 57 Olympic swimming pools, during the festivities.