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One of the major arguments made by the Leave campaign was that after Brexit, Britain would be unshackled from the bureaucratic chains of Europe to pursue its own free trade policy with the rest of the world. In times that were becoming increasingly protectionist, this was to be a clarion call for free marketeers. And after Brexit, this tone has continued. In addition, she was just in China at the beginning of February, where she struck a more pragmatic tone than some of her predecessors, focusing on post-Brexit trade rather than concerns around human rights or the Belt and Road Initiative.
But both visits showed how Britain had only a few cards to play. The sense was that Brexit had focused minds to make Jetco into more of a deliverables-focused meeting. Most areas in which the countries can increase economic ties do not need a post-Brexit free trade agreement.
When David Cameron visited India as prime minister for the first time, his ambition was to double bilateral trade within five years. Some county councils in England — for the first time in many years — are including a focus on improving non-EU trade in their core future strategy.
This is commendable, but many lack the budgets or intra-council coordination to do this in a meaningful manner. Where they do so, it is with India or China in mind. Ironically, some of the largest attempts by these councils to internationalise opportunities for their small and medium-sized enterprises post-Brexit is being achieved through EU-funded grants. Today, the UK is the 17th largest trading partner for India, while India is the 18th largest trading partner for the UK.
Germany and France would stand to lose. One can hear many diplomats quote these figures to evidence the substantial post-Brexit potential.
However, the chance of all tariffs falling to zero on the first day after Brexit is fanciful. British exports to Germany are, roughly, more than the whole Commonwealth combined. While the EU is a trading bloc, the 52 Commonwealth countries are not. The only thing that links them is an erstwhile British hegemony. According to a report by the International Trade Centre, intra-Commonwealth exports as a share of total export figures show that only six countries benefit less from intra-Commonwealth exports than Britain does.
In other words, Britain is saying to the Commonwealth: Intra-Commonwealth trade will increase after Brexit, as it has been doing for many years. But even a cursory look at the numbers suggests it will not replace intra-EU trade. Friends of Europe is a leading think-tank that connects people, stimulates debate and triggers change to create a more inclusive, sustainable and forward-looking Europe.
In times that were becoming increasingly protectionist, this was to be a clarion call for free marketeers Most areas in which the countries can increase economic ties do not need a post-Brexit free trade agreement.
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