Does The WA Pass The Ronseal Test – Can We Do Trade Deals?

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May’s WA apparently allows the UK to sign new trade deals. Does it do what it says on the tin?

No, not really.

Not for 4 years
During Transition the UK is broadly treated as an EU member state. Therefore no new UK only trade deals can come into effect. Transition lasts for 2 years plus the highly likely 2 year extension.  Any external trade deals we negotiate would thus need to be dated as “from 2021 or maybe 2023 we really don’t know which”.

Scope of UK Trade Deals
WA Annex II Art 3 “The United Kingdom shall align the tariffs…with…the Union’s Common Customs Tariff…”.  That seems to leave us only able to deals on Services. Most of the customer countries we want to sell Services to are likely to be Goods heavy developing countries. You buy our Insurance and we will buy your oranges sort of thing.

End state with the EU
The objective of establishing “…ambitious customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory…” implies rather a lot of future cooperation on external trade deals with the EU. Would anyone actually be interested in doing any leg work on a UK only deal if that is the possible end state?

So the WA only allows us to strike trade deals provided you are prepared to wait 2 or 4 years and then just strike a deal on Services and not Goods, and possibly have that overturned in the end by a UK/EU arrangement.

Or to put it another way – No, it’s not Ronseal