Plaid Cymru hits out at UK Government’s miniscule’ Indo-Pacific trade deal
Plaid Cymru has criticised the UK Government’s latest trade deal following the announcement today (31 March) that that it had gained membership of an Indo-Pacific trade bloc.
The UK is the first new member, and first European nation, to join the bloc – comprising Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – since its formation in 2018.
It follows nearly two years of negotiations, culminating in intensive talks in Vietnam earlier this month, when representatives of all 11 existing members agreed to the UK joining.
Membership of the group represents the biggest trade deal since leaving the EU, cutting tariffs for UK exporters to a group of nations which – with the UK’s accession – will have a total gross domestic product (GDP) of £11 trillion, accounting for 15% of global GDP, according to UK officials.
However, critics have said the impact will be limited, with official estimates suggesting it will add just £1.8 billion a year to the economy after 10 years, representing less than 1% of UK GDP.
Plaid Cymru International spokesperson Hywel Williams MP mocked UK Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch, for saying the UK will have “strength in numbers” as part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), despite having left the biggest trade bloc in the world – the European Union, saying, “you could not make this up”.
Last weekend the UK Government’s fiscal watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility reported that the UK’s GDP will be four per cent smaller than if it had stayed in the EU.
Mr Williams said that “with every miniscule trade deal the UK Government champions, the supposed logic of Brexit falls further apart”.
He also reiterated his party’s call for Wales-specific impact assessments on trade deals, saying that trade deals could “set a pattern of a free ride for foreign producers”.
Mr Williams said: “The Tories celebrate a trade deal that will boost the UK economy by 0.08% over the next 10 years – that same economy suffers a 4% hit due to Brexit.
“The Trade Secretary crows about joining a trade bloc the other side of the world. She says we will now have ‘strength in numbers’, joining countries around the Pacific Rim.
“This is after we’ve been ripped out of the biggest trade bloc in the world on our own doorstep.
“Welsh farming unions warned that the New Zealand and Australia trade deals would set a pattern of a free ride for foreign producers. Plaid Cymru called for an assessment of the effect on Wales. The government weren’t telling and probably didn’t know.
“You really could not make this up. This Conservative government really have no idea what they are doing.
“With every miniscule trade deal the UK Government champions, the supposed logic of Brexit falls further apart.
“For the sake of our economy, we must start rebuilding trading relationships with our closest partners and re-join the European single market as soon as possible.”
While Britain already has trade agreements with most of the CPTPP members, apart from Malaysia, officials said the deal would deepen existing arrangements, with 99% of UK goods exported to the bloc now eligible for zero tariffs.
Key UK exports to the region, including cheese, cars, chocolate, machinery, gin and whisky, will be among those to benefit, while officials said the services industry would also enjoy reduced red tape and increased market access.
At the same time, they said vital UK sectors, including agriculture and the NHS, will be protected, while existing animal welfare and food safety standards will be maintained.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said membership of the bloc would put the UK at the centre of a “dynamic” group of Pacific economies, giving British businesses “unparalleled access to markets from Europe to the south Pacific”.
“We are at our heart an open and free-trading nation, and this deal demonstrates the real economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms,” he said.
“As part of CPTPP, the UK is now in a prime position in the global economy to seize opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation.”
The CBI welcomed the agreement as a “milestone” for British industry, reinforcing the UK’s commitment “to building partnerships in an increasingly fragmented world”.
Labour said that while the agreement represented “encouraging” progress, it needed to see the details.
Shadow trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The Conservative Government’s track record in striking good trade deals is desperately poor.
“Other countries joining CPTPP arrangements have secured important safeguards and put in place support for their producers: it is vital that ministers set out if they plan to do the same.”
Liberal Democrat trade spokeswoman Sarah Green said: “This Conservative Government is responsible for some shocking trade deals that fail to add economic benefit to the UK.
“The Conservatives have trashed the British economy with GDP stagnant and this announcement will not even repair a fraction of their damage.”
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