Truss and Sunak stress their international trade credentials in Exeter leadership hustings

Tue 2 Aug 2022
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Both candidates in the Conservative Party leadership contest leaned heavily on their international trade credentials at the Exeter hustings on Monday (01 August).

Liz Truss, who led the Department for International Trade before becoming foreign secretary, was introduced by current trade minister Penny Mordaunt.

Mordaunt, the most recent Tory MP to be knocked out of the leadership contest, said she could have remained neutral but that it was “too important” to “leave this to chance”, the Guardian reports.

Truss’s predecessor as secretary of state for international trade, Dr Liam Fox, introduced Rishi Sunak at the event as someone who made “difficult but vital decisions” during the pandemic, according to the BBC.

Truss on tariffs

Truss referenced her achievements as trade minister in her bid to swing the Tory party members who will decide who becomes their next leader, as well as prime minister.

“I was very proud to lift the whisky tariffs,” she said, adding that it became “25% cheaper for [Scottish businesses] to export their whisky to the United States”.

Truss on NI

Truss also listed the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill as one of her three most important achievements, saying that she would prefer a negotiated settlement for Northern Ireland trade, but that “there is only one thing the EU understands - that is strength.”

When asked about the threat of Scottish independence, Truss emphasised the importance that Scotland was properly supported through policies such as freeports and investment zones, according to the Herald.

Sunak slams trade deals

Sunak criticised the Australia and New Zealand trade deals, which were largely negotiated under Truss’ watch, as “one sided”.

He added that the UK “shouldn’t be rushing to sign trade deals as quickly as possible”, reports City AM.

As noted by ITV’s political editor, Robert Peston, the former chancellor added that he would not renegotiate the agreements because it would be wrong to rip up an international treaty.

The UK’s deals with Australia have been criticised by agricultural bodies for lowering standards and tariffs on food imports, raising fears that the UK could be flooded with cheap imports.

The government has defended the deals, however, saying that there are safeguards in place for British agriculture, including a phased approach to reducing tariffs on Australian meat exports.

Truss’ visa plans

The Telegraph reports that Sunak camp has also attacked Truss’s plans to expand the visa scheme for European fruit pickers, saying her “true Remainer colours are starting to show”.

The seasonal workers scheme allows for about 40,000 foreign workers to come to the UK for up to six months each year to work in horticulture and is due to end in 2024.

Under Truss’ plans, announced yesterday, the cap on the number of workers who can apply to the scheme would be lifted, with the current six-month time limit extended. She would also keep the programme beyond the 2024 expiry date.

Closing the gap

A fresh poll in The Times showed Sunak may be closing the gap and is now just five points behind Truss, after trailing by more than 20 in a survey last week.

As previously covered in the IOE&IT Daily Update, trade has been front and centre of the candidate debates, with both Truss and Sunak laying out their stance on issues including trade deals, China, Ukraine, and freeports.

Both candidates have emphasised their support for freeports, as reported by The Evening Standard, with Truss promising “full-fat freeports” as part of her growth strategy and Sunak being an early, pre-Brexit supporter of the policy.

The next hustings are scheduled for 3 August, in Cardiff, with a live Sky News debate planned for 4 August.