In the early hours of this morning, Kemi Badenoch announced the UK had joined the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – a large Indo-Pacific trading bloc including Canada, Japan, Australia and Mexico. The move is intended to boost trade and strengthen UK influence in the context of an increasingly present Chinese threat. It will boost the UK economy by a stonking £1.8 billion – and that’s only set to grow.
In her video announcement, Kemi Badenoch thanked other trade ministers who had worked on the deal. Guido notes that Kemi failed to mention one Trade Secretary in post over the course of the 21-month negotiating period. A certain Liz Truss…
In a statement released this morning, the Prime Minister welcomed the move:
“We are at our heart an open and free-trading nation, and this deal demonstrates the real economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms. 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.”
Guido struggles to find much to dislike about the deal. Though the remain-obsessed establishment will no doubt find something to charge against – “pro-trade” Labour have already raised concerns “including on consumer safety, food safety, data protection and environmental protections”. It’s been a good 24 hours for Kemi, who also won re-selection last night. Crack open the sake.
Guido was pleased to kick off Westminster’s party season last night at the Aussie High Commissioner’s residence over in Kensington, although guests weren’t actually invited inside and had to use portaloos in the neighbour’s driveway. The guest of honour was Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who took a night off battling for Ukraine to get dressed up and pose next to the BBQ’s head chef.
While Ben may have been guest of honour, the star of the show was undoubtedly the food itself – Guido can confidently predict the next fortnight’s worth of canapés will struggle to compete. A speech prior to the feast saw Meat & Livestock Australia’s spokesman extolling the virtues of the new UK-AUS free trade deal, which will allow their fantastic beef and lamb to once again flood UK supermarket shelves.
Also spotted enjoying the catering and speeches was, ironically, none other than the SNP’s Angus Brendan MacNeil, whose role as chairman of the Commons’ Trade Committee saw him bemoan said trade agreement last year as “something which brings significant harms as well as benefits”:
“The views of the entire farming sector especially are no secret now, including those in the devolved nations, who are particularly concerned about being undercut by cheaper meat and dairy produce from ‘down under’.”
MacNeil managed to park his concerns while tucking into mounds of 12-hour slow-cooked beef brisket. Hard-left MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle also showed up, having decided his rail picketing was secondary to a posh drinks do at the High Commissioner’s Knightsbridge residence…
Despite both Lord Geidt’s resignation letter and the PM’s response being published, the specifics behind the ethics adviser’s decision to quit remain broadly unanswered by both documents. Boris’s letter goes the furthest, specifying Geidt had been asked to look into a “potential future decision related to the Trade Remedies Authority” (TRA), which while “in line with our domestic law… might be seen to conflict with our obligations under the [World Trade Organisation]. With further details emerging, it now looks like Geidt’s decision is not only confusing, it takes the wind out of Labour’s sails…
In 2021 the TRA issued advice to then-Trade Secretary Liz Truss to drop tariffs on certain types of steel. While Truss was initially in favour of complying with the TRA advice, opposition from Cabinet – spearheaded by Kwasi Kwarteng – eventually meant the government deciding to go against it.
As Boris said, while this would be uncontroversial at home, it may have clashed with WTO rules. As reported at the time, rolling over the EU safeguarding measures without an investigation, according to some respondents to the TRA’s review, would be “incompatible with World Trade Organisation rules”. The great irony here is that the minister in charge of TRA policy is none other than Boris’s chief ministerial dissenter Penny Mordaunt, who by extension has now unintentionally caused Geidt to quit.
The specifics behind Geidt’s resignation also create a headache for Labour, who have been revelling in the news since last night. In 2021 Labour responded to the TRA’s recommendation to withdraw steel safeguards by saying the government “must instead accept Labour’s offer to work together in the national interest and come forward with emergency legislation, which we will support, to amend the regulations and allow Britain’s steel safeguards to be maintained in full.”
Before these details emerged, it was speculated that Geidt had been asked to investigate an issue relating to a conflict of interest. Even following the publication of both letters, Robert Peston tweeted “the only conclusion to be drawn is that Geidt was asked to sanction tariffs being imposed to help companies with connections to the Conservative Party or ministers.”
The only conclusion to be drawn is that Geidt was asked to sanction tariffs being imposed to help companies with connections to the Conservative Party or ministers.— Robert Peston (@Peston) June 16, 2022
It now appears not only was this not the only conclusion one could draw, it was an incorrect one. Government sources tell Jim Pickard that Geidt “never” mentioned potential conflicts regarding Tory donors in his conversations and texts about this with the PM. A government source describes Peston’s flawed conclusion slightly more bluntly to Guido, as a “deranged falsehood”.
The Department for Trade’s announced the UK has moved into the second and final phase of accession to join the CPTPP free trade area, a move confirmed by Japan this morning. The £8.4 trillion trade bloc, hailed by Anne-Marie Trevelyan as “one of the largest and most exciting free-trading clubs in the world”, could be set to welcome the UK as a member by the end of the year, giving us access to the 11 current members’ markets. 99.9% of exports would become tariff-free…
Trevelyan hails the decision by Japan:
“CPTPP is one of the largest and most exciting free-trading clubs in the world. Today’s announcement is a major milestone for us joining this dynamic group of economies and means the finish line is in sight.
“I look forward to visiting Asia next week and flying the flag for Global Britain by holding valuable trade talks with key partners across the Indo-Pacific region and pushing to secure CPTPP accession by the end of the year. This just one aspect of our Indo-Pacific strategy, which will benefit businesses and consumer across every part of the UK and help us to level up at home.”
Yet another benefit of Brexit…
Liz Truss came out swinging yesterday afternoon in response to claims that DfT had dropped climate targets on Australia in order to secure a free trade deal. It follows reports last week that ministers had abandoned pledges within the Paris Climate Accord for the sake of pushing the deal over the line. Speaking at an event with Policy Exchange, Truss said:
“Australia has committed for the first time in any trade agreement a clause on climate change. Both parties have reaffirmed their commitment to Paris […] and what will be in the final deal. So the stuff you’re repeating is simply fake news about that.”
Batting away claims that the UK had been slow to sign new deals, Truss added: “We’re a bit like Goldilocks, we’re doing it just at the right speed to secure the full UK interest”…