The UK is seeking to bolster relations in the Asia-Pacific to build a global trade system that reflects its “core values”, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Secretary of State for International Trade, told an Asia House audience today (13 December).
Highlighting the importance of the Asia-Pacific for UK trade, the Secretary of State outlined a vision for a trade system focused on “freedom, fairness, sovereignty, the rule of law, and good environmentalist policies.”
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“As we look to seize the moment of opportunity to reshape our relationships on the world stage as Global Britain, it is to our like-minded friends and allies in the Asia Pacific that we look,” she said.
The Secretary of State’s remarks came during the keynote speech at the Asia House Global Trade Dialogue, in which she also warned of protectionism that could take hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must ensure that the economic constraints of COVID do not become the chains that manacle the global trading system to a new and devastating round of protectionism,” Trevelyan said.
“The UK intends to work with our Asian friends and partners to ensure nations play by the rules, to tackle the increasing systematic use of market-distorting practices such as harmful subsidies, unfair practices by state-owned enterprises and forced technology transfer.”
UK relations with China
Asked whether her comments on unfair practices were directed towards China, the Secretary of State said these were global issues, and that the UK aims to help the WTO reform to better serve “countries large and small that want to trade on free and fair rules.”
“We have a very strong bilateral trade relationship with China, and I hope very much that will continue to grow in non-strategic areas,” she added.
CPTPP ‘at the heart of Britain’s ambitions’
The Secretary of State said the Indo-Pacific region was vital to the UK’s economic, strategic and security interests. Britain hopes to join the Comprehensive and Progressing Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which it sees as an important part of its post-Brexit trading future. Trevelyan said this was at the heart of Britain’s ambitions for the coming year.
China has also applied to join the CPTPP, which removes 90 per cent of tariffs among its members – Japan, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, Chile and Malaysia.
The centre of economic gravity is moving east, Trevelyan told participants at the dialogue, which is Asia House’s flagship conference – this year sponsored by Arup. By 2030, ASEAN’s digital economy alone is projected to hit $1 trillion and 65 per cent of the world’s middle-class consumers are expected to be in Asia.
Britain last week reached agreement in principle on a digital trade deal – the first of its kind by a European country – with Singapore.
“We know the revolution in e-commerce also means that transfers of services are becoming ever more important components of the international trading system,” Trevelyan said.
The UK has reached free trade agreements (FTAs) with Asian states including Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, and agreements in principle with Australia and New Zealand.
“Our ambition is to reach bilateral and multilateral deals with countries whose trade was worth £140 billion last year,” Trevelyan added.
Asked about trade and sustainability, Trevelyan said she wanted British businesses to help share skills and expertise with other countries to keep alive the goal of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
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