Big up the miniscule plus. Play down the massive minus: Truss’s trade trickery

The ministers of this Conservative government are really not big on geography, Or maths. Or critical thinking . Or ethics. In fact, it is hard to work out what they are good at beyond fabrication, corruption, exaggeration and blaming. All very ‘through the looking glass’.

Meme by Sadie Parker

Whilst Raab battles with geography and the unintended and unexpected perspicacity of his observation comes painfully home to roost, Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade, excels at exaggeration in word, deed and presentation. She has crowed about rolling over deals which were on terms identical to those we had as members of the EU. She has crowed about signing deals which were actually on worse terms.

Most recently, she has decided that the decision to apply to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (‘CPTPP’) warrants a photo opportunity on a set that would be overblown for an actual signing. It’s a letter of intent she’s gurning over, that’s all.

Meme by Sadie Parker

It’s all part of the flashy headline approach. Never mind that our joining, if approved by the existing membership, would only really add Malaysia and Brunei as extras to our previous EU-negotiated arrangements. Never mind the distance involved with all the ramifications for environmental impact and cost. Never mind the fact that it does not and can not even begin to plug the hole created by the friction-full post Brexit third country trade with our erstwhile partners in the EU… because this is not new business. She sells it as if it is, but it isn’t. We already do £111 billion in trade with these countries and tariff-cutting, which sounds as beguiling as ‘free trade’, has not been a passport to growth for decades, as trade expert David Henig explains:

Tariff reduction has not been a route to growth for at least 30 years on account of tariffs no longer being particularly high. We really should be doing better than shallow deals replicating existing deals we have with the same countries.

For a UK Cabinet Minister to say that our EU deal means “we can trade freely” is trade and economic illiteracy. That this comes from the Secretary of State for Trade is appalling. A 19th or 20th century trade policy for a 21st century world.

It should be noted that business shares these concerns about UK trade policy focusing on the wrong things but as previously reported with regard to the EU deal feels they will be frozen out from meetings if they ever say so. Suffice to say this is not a healthy state of affairs.

Incidentally common sense that it is generally more expensive to export to countries further away (not always, but generally) and more countries are competitive with us in doing so.

Originally tweeted by David Henig (@DavidHenigUK) on 31/01/2021.

Never forget the saying ‘Double the distance, halve the trade’. It’s right up there with ‘measure twice, cut once’ as mottos that really work, the latter being the one we should have followed to give ourselves a second look at the Brexit decision via a People’s Vote.

Thank you, Lewis Goodall, for pointing out that these ‘best of both worlds’ boasts are of scant comfort to businesses utterly messed up by Brexit bureaucracy and barriers to once seamless EU trade…in fact, they must be like red rags to a bull.

So there you have it. A load of fanfare and fluff for a letter to join a grouping thousands of miles away. Shadow secretary for international trade, Emily Thornberry pointed out the need for scrutiny before anything is signed (always assuming they’ll have us since even with the cover of Raab’s shaky geography we have real issues claiming any Pacific coastline):

“Like any other trade agreement, the advantages of joining the CPTPP will have to be assessed once we see the terms on offer. At present, Liz Truss cannot even guarantee whether we would have the right to veto China’s proposed accession if we join the bloc first,” she said.

“More generally, people will rightly ask why we have been through five years of debate in Britain over leaving a trade bloc with our closest neighbours only to rush into joining another one on the other side of the world without any meaningful public consultation at all.”

Thornberry might have mentioned the S-word, too. In any trade deal, there is some degree of shared sovereignty…yes, even on the Brexiters’ favourite WTO terms. That’s how it works. You agree to give a little in order to gain more (a great deal more, as a member of the EU), whilst retaining overall sovereignty. Trouble is, when Tricky Truss does her exaggerating and her dodgy maths, even the prospect of just a little bit more can so easily turn into quite a lot less…

Postscript: Weapons grade hyperbole from the gushing Truss to the Conservative mailing list which includes, fortunately, the odd spy! Annotated by an angry reader (me!):

“Britain is back as an independent trading nation.

Having now left the EU’s customs union and single market we have taken back control of our trade to deliver jobs and prosperity across the UK. [Tell that to the fisherfolk, farmers, wine businesses and a host of others watching their trade evaporate!]

Already seizing vast opportunities across the world with trade deals worth £885bn with 63 countries and the EU already agreed. [DEALS WE ALREADY HAD as members]

No other nation in history has successfully handled as many negotiations as we have. [Because no other nation has had to, because no other nation trashed its own economy and trade deals by leaving the third biggest trade bloc of the lot! As for ‘successfully’? What is the measure of success? Managing to replicate existing deals? Managing to strike deals at worse terms? Sitting in front of a bunch of flags without withering with embarrassment?]

And having secured our independence, every single one of these deals has been struck to suit Britain’s interests – specifically tailored to create jobs and propel economic growth at home.

And XXX [unfortunate recipient of this torrent of tosh] I can guarantee you that we are only just getting started.

In 2021 we are taking our trade agenda to the next level as we push towards gold standard agreements with the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

And look to join The Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership which covers 11 dynamic trading nations, including some of the fastest growing economies of the future. [See above]

Our membership will drive job growth and help Britain lead the world in industries of tomorrow.

XXX, having left the EU our ambitious trade strategy is at the heart of our vision for Global Britain and in 2021 we are more than ready to seize our potential on the world stage.

Striking trade deals that deliver jobs and prosperity at home and flying the flag for free trade, enterprise and innovation around the world.

Utter, utter twaddle…but dangerous as it is lapped up by the willing. Words fail me. Truss, meanwhile, is failing us all!