Thursday, 14 December 2017

Naysayers be damned. There is life after Brexit.

This week Liam Fox announced £18 million in funding at the World Trade Organisation's largest ever Ministerial Conference in Argentina. The funding from the DfID "will help 51 of the world’s poorest countries produce products fit for export, trade more easily across borders and access untapped new markets which have the potential to create thousands of jobs and lift their citizens out of poverty".

£16 million of the funding will go to the WTO’s Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) programme, which helps governments and businesses build the capacity, infrastructure and policies needed to successfully export and trade. UK funding is already helping Zambian farmers harness the country’s huge export potential for honey, building the supply chains and regulatory compliance needed to export abroad.

A further £2 million will go to the WTO’s Standards and Trade Development Facility which helps developing countries meet international agricultural standards, enabling them to export more produce.

The STDF is an excellent example of an Aid-for-Trade partnership on strengthening sanitary and phytosanitary capacity to help developing countries gain and maintain market access. Since its creation in 2004, the STDF has delivered 150 projects to help developing countries improve their SPS capacity and promote safe trade in food and agricultural products.

This is, believe it or not, very seriously good news. This is where aid spending can make a real difference and if integrated into a wider trade strategy then we have the makings of a halfway intelligent trade policy. Though £2m isn't exactly staggering riches, in this domain small sums can do big things.

Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD remarked at the conference that "Existing waivers for commercial services export from LDCs will have little impact unless backed by lowered regulatory barriers and supply side capacity building". This tells us a lot of what we already know; that tinkering with tariffs is neither here nor there - but deregulation is precisely where we don't want to be not least because of the ramifications for existing UK-EU trade. We cannot enter a race to the bottom, therefore we must enter a trade space race to lift standards throughout.

The European Commission is currently conducting a review of the Indian SPS inspection process and is considering a total ban on Indian seafood product imports. It recently increased the percentage of seafood imports from India that must go through inspection from 10 percent to 50 percent, after finding repeated violations of its standards for contamination. Odisha, one of India's highest-producing seafood regions, is particularly exposed to barriers to trade with the EU. Its seafood exports to the EU have almost doubled to EUR 9.6m.

This is where the UK can and should intervene and no doubt has the business and cultural links necessary to enhance Indian aquaculture - and not a bad idea since fishing generally is likely to come under the microscope for reasons you might be familiar with. There are some bloody interesting things happening in aquaculture too. Proactive trade facilitation puts us first in line to promote UK technologies and business services.

The EU is presently ramping up its trade propaganda. Over the coming months and years they will announce and re-announce FTAs to world to give the impression it has the whole world already sewn up. What I note, though, is that EU partnership agreements are only as good as the investment poured into them and as EU members we do not have sole authority in how such funds are directed. Many such agreements amount to not very much. 

Free of the EU the UK will bring some £5bn in aid spending back in house. That can be turned to our advantage. If we are willing to put the work in (and the investment) then there is no shortage of things for the UK to get busy with that will serve the national interest. Naysayers be damned. There is life after Brexit. 

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