UK to 'champion free trade and back the WTO' when it assumes G7 presidency next year, reports say

Mon 6 Jul 2020
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

uk trade

An independently-trading UK will push for lower tariffs and greater powers for the World Trade Organisation when it assumes presidency of the G7, government sources are quoting as saying.

The UK can now adopt its own trade agenda having left the European Union in January 2020, with the end of its transition from the EU coinciding with the start of its presidency of the G7 (Group of Seven) in January 2021.

A report in the Mail on Sunday claims the UK will use its position to try to break down barriers to free trade and “give the WTO back its legal teeth” so that it can properly enforce a rules-based trading system.

The country is also currently pursuing trade deals with the EU, US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand for when the transition period – during which it continues to operate under EU trade rules – ends on 31 December 2020.

A new phase of the Department for International Trade’s ‘Ready to Trade’ marketing campaign, launched in 13 countries on 1 February after the UK left the EU, is in development.

Top priority

The Mail on Sunday report claims the UK is seeking to work with like-minded countries to reverse the rise of protectionism that began in the years after the financial crisis in 2008 and has been amplified by the coronavirus crisis.

A key part of this approach, the Mail on Sunday article claims, will be giving a strong backing the WTO – the international body that maintains a rule-based system for global trade by punishing countries that defy trade agreements.

The Daily Update has reached out to the DIT for comment on the story.

US anger

The Trump Administration in the US, meanwhile, has been publicly critical of the WTO, with President Trump arguing it has taken a soft stance on China.

The US has blocked appointments to the WTO’s Appellate Body, which judges on international trade disputes, rendering the organisation toothless.

Taking the global stage

Since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, the UK has increased its team in Geneva – where the WTO is based – four-fold.

Julian Braithwaite – the UK ambassador to the WTO – now has his own seat when addressing the organisation, having previously sat with EU ambassadors observing Europe’s trade commissioner.

At a WTO meeting in Geneva in May, the UK's Deputy Permanent Representative to the organisation restated the UK’s support for the WTO.

Championing free trade

Dr Liam Fox, the previous minister for trade in the UK, is also considering a bid to replace Roberto Azevedo as the director general of the WTO.

In the Telegraph on Saturday he wrote that the UK has a “proud history in championing the cause of free trade” and financially supporting some of the smallest nations to be represented in the WTO.

He argued the UK needs to bring “new energy to the global trade debate before it is too late”.

He said: “Only by innovative thinking, a willingness to reform and a genuine desire to make the benefits of free trade work for everyone will we achieve that vision of human progress and peace. Britain should relish the challenge to lead.”

Lord Peter Mandelson, the former Labour cabinet minister, is also bidding to stand as the UK’s nomination for the top position.