British international trade secretary, Kemi Badenoch, has said that Brexit U.K is changing its approach to international trade. Instead of striking big bang free-trade agreements, the UK will focus more on ensuring business are actually using the deals Britain has already struck.
“I am trying to shift the Overton window of trade beyond trade deals. Everyone thinks the department does trade deals. Trade deals are great, but they are not the only thing,” she said in a Q&A with GB News presenter Liam Halligan on 3 October 2022.
“Trade deals are like the motorway. It is fantastic when you get them built. But if cars aren’t going back and forth, then you might as well not have built them. The going back and forth are the exports and investments.”
In a session with British lawmakers before Christmas, she took up this point again that Britain was changing tack: “I want to emphasize that free-trade agreements are like the motorway.”
After leaving the European Union, Britain made free-trade agreements the cornerstone of her post-Brexit strategy in a bid to show that leaving the EU was the right decision. This led to a spree of free-trade agreements negotiations with deals struck with Australia and New Zealand, and negotiations underway with Mexico, Canada, the Gulf States, India and Israel.
But there is growing criticism that the U.K.’s deals are not exactly the big boost they’ve been sold as for the British economy. One concern is whether British businesses are getting the most value out of these agreements.
British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, criticized the free-trade deals with Australia and New Zealand negotiated by Truss when she was trade secretary as “one sided” during a hustings event in Exeter, adding that the UK “shouldn’t be rushing to sign trade deals as quickly as possible”.
Sunak has a key ally in Badenoch. As early as 2018, the then conservative MP Badenoch was already outlining her vision for how post-Brexit Britain should think about international trade, and that job is now hers as the UK’s trade chief. In her opinion piece, she warned about the trade-offs in big free trade agreements, and while “of course, they will bring opportunities”, it was necessary to look at the “deeper point about the impact that opening our markets will have on domestic producers.”
“As someone who represents a farming constituency, this is a significant factor for me.”
Under the Boris Johnson government, the slogan of Brexit Britain was Global Britain. While the U.K. retains an interest in free trade agreements, the new approach will not be just that.
“My approach is going to be different from previous secretaries of state,” she told MPs. “I would like us to move away from DIT being seen as the ‘Department for Free-Trade Agreements,’ and back to the Department for International Trade.”