Thursday 18 June 2020 3:03 pm

DEBATE: Is now really the time to be focusing on tariff-free trade with Australia?

Matthew Lesh is head of research at the Adam Smith Institute
and Miriam Brett
Miriam Brett is director of research and advocacy at Common Wealth

Is now really the time to be focusing on tariff-free trade with Australia?

Matthew Lesh,  head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, says YES.

The launch of the UK-Australia trade talks this week are an important opportunity for a global Britain. 

Britain abandoned her antipodean cousins by joining the European Economic Community in 1973. This meant trade barriers on both sides.

Tariffs are truly lose-lose. They hurt consumers, pushing up prices and reducing access to quality products. They also make domestic industry less productive and innovative by reducing competitive pressures. 

Australia and the UK are highly developed nations with similar standards from animal rights to financial services. We must not allow a small, vocal minority of self-interested producers undermine the UK’s exit from the European Union by insisting on trade barriers with new partners. 

A tariff-free premise provides an important foundation for talks. It means negotiators can focus on a truly comprehensive deal on services, with mutual recognition that boosts digital and financial services, as well as encourages cross-border investment and freer movement.

If we are to recover from the current crisis, we’ll need to get international trade flowing once again. Let’s start by getting rid of pesky tariffs with one of the UK’s closest friends.

Read more: Brexit: Germany says UK-EU trade talks will enter ‘hot phase’ in September

Miriam Brett, director of research and advocacy at Common Wealth, says NO.

The UK’s trading position has shifted dramatically, having transitioned from being a member of the world’s largest single market to seeking trade deals on our own — amid an economy already grappling with the slowest economic recovery in a century, the multitude of fresh anxieties posed by Brexit, and now the Covid-19 public health crisis and its subsequent economic fallout.

This rapid transition in status matters, not least because it weakens our negotiating hand and our ability to effectively negotiate trade deals that work in the interests of society, workers, and our environment. 

It also matters because, after decades of organising trading policy via the EU, doubt has been cast as to whether the UK is fully prepared to fight for new trade agreements.

From securing a thriving future for our publicly owned NHS, to tariffs related to key exports such as our food and drink sector, and fears around a race to the bottom for environmental standards, the content of trade deals have the potential to radically alter our path forward. 

As we wrestle with this new landscape, we cannot allow the rush to secure trade deals to matter more than the details included in them.

Main image credit: Getty

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