Brexit ‘has been a success’ says Lee Anderson
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The Department for International Trade (DIT) led by Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and formerly Liz Truss, managed to strike trade deals with 70 countries, plus the 27 EU member states, worth an estimated £760billion. However, Labour MP Meg Hillier has urged caution and warned the department “needs to beware of being stretched too thin”.
The chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee added: “It needs to ensure it puts enough effort into ensuring the UK can reap real benefits from these deals.”
The pessimistic intervention came as a report published today found 64 percent of total UK trade is with countries now covered by free trade agreements.
The report detailed how prior to the end of the Brexit transition period last December, 33 of the 39 existing EU trade agreements had been migrated – and another three were agreed in 2021.
Trade deals were also signed in principle with Australia and New Zealand, and the UK began trade negotiations to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The remarks by Ms Hillier come after Sir Keir reshuffled his top team with one eye on Brexit.
Last week, Sir Keir moved Nick Thomas-Symonds from shadow home secretary to shadow international trade secretary.
The Labour leader said: “Make Brexit Work is huge part of my agenda and that’s why I’ve asked Nick Thomas-Symonds to be in charge at International Trade and lead a Shadow Cabinet committee to deliver this crucial work.”
Following the report, the National Audit Office (NAO) praised the DIT for reaching trade deals with nations around the world given the short timeframe.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, also stressed more needed to be done to take full advantage of leaving the EU.
He said: “The Department for International Trade has built its capacity to lead a challenging and intense programme of trade negotiations to a tight timeframe.
“It now needs to ensure that the deals it is pursuing deliver real benefits to businesses, consumers and the UK economy.”
He added the DIT should also provide “greater transparency of objectives, make best use of stakeholder views, and ensure there is enough focus on implementing the deals already secured”.
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This week, the UK has taken another step forward towards striking a wider free trade deal with the US.
Ms Trevelyan met US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in Washington on Tuesday.
The International Trade Secretary is also scheduled to speak to business leaders in New York later on Wednesday.
Responding to the report published today, the DIT stressed firms would be able to take “full advantage of the opportunities that our independent trade strategy offers”.
The Department added 2022 promises to be a “five-star year for UK trade”, with talks continuing with India, Mexico, Canada and others.
A spokesperson said: “We have already secured over £760billion worth of trade deals with 70 countries plus the EU and our trade strategy will ensure that the UK continues to attract valuable financial investment that boosts our world-class exports and brings prosperity to every part of the UK.
“Through our new export strategy we will help businesses take full advantage of the opportunities that our independent trade strategy offers, boosting enterprise across the UK and helping to level up the country.
“2022 will be a five-star year for UK trade as we launch new negotiations with India, Mexico, Canada and the Gulf, as well as securing CPTPP accession.
“We also look forward to seeing the ambitious deals we have agreed with Australia and New Zealand come into force.”
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