Former Australian PM backs plan to target Commonwealth nations for trade deals

Mark Sands
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Parliament Resumes Following Tony Smith's Election To Speaker Of The House
Abbott stepped down as Prime Minister after losing leadership challenge in 2015. (Source: Getty)

A new paper backed by former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott is calling on the UK to quit the EU's customs union and focus on Commonwealth trade after Brexit.

The report, authored by Tory Braintree MP James Cleverly, suggests a five step approach to Britain's trade priorities, beginning with the Commonwealth’s open economies.

After setting up “easy win” deals with Australia, Canada, Singapore and New Zealand in time for Brexit in 2019, the UK should pivot to negotiations with India, before deals with the Commonwealth nations of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Finally, Cleverly said the UK should join the Trade in Service Agreement, a US-EU-Australian deal with is geared towards services.

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Endorsing the proposals, Abbott said: “The best way to ensure that free trade has few losers, even in the short term, is to begin with much freer trade between likeminded countries with comparable standards of living.

“Free trade agreements with economically advanced Commonwealth countries are the obvious place for Britain to start.”

The paper also suggests that any trade negotiations should also be accompanied by liberal visa reforms, to protect access to talent.

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In addition, it demands a new white paper on trade and investment to provide government departments with a single plan from which to work.

Cleverly said: “The government must a publish a plan to utilise the 'Commonwealth advantage' and build our trade links with the Commonwealth. A market of 2.3 billion people and some of the fastest growing economies in the world is too big an opportunity to ignore.”

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