Delivering “Real” Free Trade?

No two political words in the English language are more misused and abused by the global political class than ‘Free Trade’.  Real free trade – as opposed to what so many claim to be ‘free trade’ – involves absolutely minimal restriction and unfettered market access.

One only has to glance at the many, many pages with endless annexes and appendices of the documents which currently pass for free trade agreements to see just how far the use of the term by bureaucracies differs from what any normal person does or can understand.

The WTO, the World Trade organization, is an egregious offender in this.

Its whole approach – with its endless, ‘essential’ classification lists, categories, and annexes – precludes anything other than the most bureaucratic practices, mired in ‘red-tape’.  Based on this, everybody claims that no other approach is possible: it cannot be done they say save through WTO approved trade agreements of unbelievable complexity which are necessarily both incredibly difficult to agree in the first place and virtually impossible to understand thereafter.

So, how can we cut ‘the Gordian knot’ and arrive at anything remotely fit for the purpose of genuinely enriching everybody and facilitating international trade?

We believe that you must discard all existing approaches and address the real question: what is the absolute minimum that could work in practice?

This is our answer in the form of a text which we believe the UK should offer to every single UN member (okay, perhaps North Korea excepted) …

UK/… (insert name of state) Free Trade Agreement

This is a trade agreement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and …. (insert name of state)

  1. No tariffs.
  1. No non-tariff trade barriers.
  1. In the event of any dispute, this agreement operates under the law of (insert single agreed legal jurisdiction).
  1. All relevant officials have stop and search rights solely to confirm that individuals are who they say they are and that products and services are accurately described: provided this is satisfied, clauses 1-3 apply, (the ‘does what it says on the tin‘ rule).

Voila!  There it is….  a genuine free trade agreement.

We are serious: it surely says all that needs to be said and provides a clear set of rules for all concerned, including that most contentious requirement, a dispute resolution procedure?

The only point we need to add is that you can only have a single jurisdiction in clause 3 as there has to be a ‘final arbiter’: you cannot have multiple jurisdictions claiming this role.

We would hope it would be, in most cases, the law of England and Wales – with London as the place of final arbitration – but it could with the agreement of both parties be any agreed legal jurisdiction, including a third party one.  Of course, the signatories have then to respect the judgments of the jurisdiction whether they like them or not but that always applies anyway – and, most of the time, we hope they would never need to go there.  Resort to Clause 3 is very much a last resort.

If the UK government had any genuine ambition to benefit from the opportunities arising from Brexit, this or something very like it – and certainly a text equally simple – would be emailed as an offer for signature to almost all UN member states – from the largest to the smallest.

It probably won’t happen, of course!

Lawyers, officials, and bureaucracies would find a million and one reasons to object and claim it to be absolutely impossible, a legal ‘non-starter’.

Of course, they would never give the real reason: officials and lawyers hate simplicity, transparency, comprehensibility and honesty. After all, these might put their jobs or fees at risk, not to mention removing the opportunities for sheer bloody-mindedness and back-handers – i.e. corruption!

But hey, what if we chose to ignore them?  What can the UK possibly lose by taking this path?  This is potentially the ultimate political and economic ‘win:win’, with nothing whatsoever to lose from failure and everything to gain from success.

David Coburn MEP


Tony Brown, EFDD        

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