Five reasons why replicating EU trade deals isn’t good enough

People in Ghana protesting against the Economic Partnership Agreements when the EU first tried to impose them.

People in Ghana protesting against the Economic Partnership Agreements when the EU first tried to impose them.

Brexit talks have turned towards trade. Right now, the Trade and Customs Bills are going through Parliament and MPs have a chance to influence the laws that will shape the UK’s trade relations after we leave the EU. But instead of changing trade for good, the Bills include provisions that allow the government to replicate controversial EU trade deals with countries like Ghana.

Here’s why MPs should call for changes to the Bills:

1.       The EU’s trade deals undermine jobs and development

The EU’s trade deals, known as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), have been criticised for undermining poorer countries’ development. The deals force countries to open their markets to competition from producers in wealthier countries, before they are ready for it. Such competition will undermine their fledgling industries and much-needed jobs that enable people to work their way out of poverty.

2.       Many countries don’t want these deals

For more than 15 years, the EU has tried to impose EPAs on poorer countries. But many countries, such as Tanzania and Nigeria, have resisted and time and again said these deals are bad for their development.

But rather than listening to their concerns, the EU has bullied countries into signing the agreements by threatening to withdraw aid or impose new tariffs. As the UK leaves the EU, we have a chance to improve our relationships with poorer countries - this shouldn’t be a precedent.  

3.       Lengthy negotiations could lead to a no-deal scenario and new tariffs

EPAs can’t simply be ‘rolled over’, they need to be negotiated and agreed by all countries involved. Such trade talks can take years (in the case of the EU, more than 15!) and with everything else on the government's table there is a real risk that we leave the EU without any new trade deals in place.

In the scenario of a no-deal, producers in poorer countries will face new tariffs when exporting to the UK - meaning their products become more expensive, less competitive, and less likely to sell. It would hit the people who are the most vulnerable in global trade and could push millions into greater poverty.

4.       There are better options on the table

Instead of repeating the EU’s mistakes, the UK could offer improved, development friendly trade scheme for poorer countries.

This type of scheme (referred to as preference scheme) allows poorer countries to protect and support their producers, while retaining access to wealthier countries’ markets. These are policies that nearly all successful economies have pursued in order to build competitive industries and create jobs that lift people out of poverty. It's time that poorer countries are given the same chance.

In addition, preference schemes are quick and easy to implement. They don’t require negotiations and can be put in place day one after Brexit. In other words, a win-win for everyone.

5.       Learn from other countries

By offering a preference scheme to poorer countries, the UK would join a host of other countries, including the United States, Australia and Norway. Earlier this year, the UK government took a first important step. After months of campaigning by Traidcraft Exchange supporters and others, Trade Secretary Liam Fox announced that the world’s 48 least developed countries will gain preferential access to the UK market after Brexit.

But there are many other poor countries, like Ghana, who haven’t been given this offer. Instead the government wants to replicate the EU’s controversial trade deals. But we can do better – it's time to change trade so it works for all poorer countries.

So what can I do, you say?

The most important thing to do is to ask your MP to call for changes to the Trade and Customs Bills to make sure trade works for all poorer countries. They need to know that you care about this issue and that the status quo isn’t good enough.

Here are the actions you can take:

House of Commons © Parliamentary Copywrite

House of Commons © Parliamentary Copywrite