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Under a free trade agreement announced last week, we will soon have tariff-free trade between the UK and Australia. This means that if you buy something produced in Australia, or an Aussie buys something made in the UK, neither of you will pay any import tax.
Even better, many of the so-called non-tariff restrictions on trade between Britain and Australia – paperwork and compliance costs – will be phased out, too.
In making the announcement, Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison took a big step towards the idea that, if it is okay to buy and sell something in Melbourne, it should be fine to buy and sell it in Manchester. A firm selling to customers in Perth Scotland will be able to sell to folk in Perth Australia too.
And why shouldn’t they? Why would anyone have a problem with this principle?
Far from foisting Aussie imports on unsuspecting British households, as BBC coverage implied, what the trade deal does is allow UK consumers more options and British businesses a better selection of suppliers. As Liz Truss, the trade minister responsible for negotiating the deal put it, “everyone’s a winner”.
You wouldn’t know it if you only read the Guardian, however. The deal, they complained, “will only boost UK GDP by up to 0.02 per cent”.
If your objection is that this deal does not go far enough, you will be pleased to discover that it is a move towards an even bigger trade arrangement with a pan-Pacific group of nations, the “Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership”, or CPTPP. This will include not only Australia and New Zealand, but Japan, Canada and Singapore too. I must have missed the Guardian’s endorsement of that.
Perhaps some of those that spent the week belittling the deal have a rather condescending view of our Australian cousins? The days when anyone in Britain could look down on “Down Under” are long gone. In the four decades we were stuck inside the EU, Australia leapfrogged us, with per capita income now almost 15 percent above ours.
Others spent the week suggesting that this deal will ruin UK farming, with a flood of cheap Aussie food imports. This is despite the fact that the deal specifically imposes quotas on Australian beef, sugar and lamb imports for the next 15 years. Nor can I recall such people complaining about agricultural imports from France.
It sounds as if a lot of the opposition to this trade deal is confected. Indeed, I can’t help but notice that many of those most outspokenly against the deal are Remainers fishing around for a reason to be against it. Why?
Having spent much of the referendum campaign telling us such trade deals could not be done, they don’t like to be proved wrong. More than that, ever since Britain voted to leave the EU, a certain type of Remainer has harboured the idea that Brexit might be reversed. This new trade deal makes that possibility ever more remote since it represents the start of a geo-strategic shift which no parliamentary arithmetic will be able to easily undo.
Over the past few years, Liz Truss has concluded dozens of trade deals. But each of these agreements until now was a “roll over” arrangement – deals that kept in place the trade deals we had as an EU member state. This latest deal, however, implies something much more: realignment.
No longer bound by the EU’s trade and regulatory pull, Britain is free to put in place arrangements that suit us, not Brussels – or as was often the case, the interests of corporate Germany. Looking back on four decades inside Brussels regulatory orbit, it seems increasingly clear that on everything from vacuum cleaners to diesel engines, rules were imposed on us not because it was in the best interests of us or the environment, but in order to advantage German business.
Today such residual rules no longer need to apply. In fact, it is becoming increasingly urgent that we review and if necessary remove such innovation sapping regulations.
When Remainers complain that the new trade agreement with Australia might complicate our relations with the EU, or impact the Northern Ireland protocol, what they are really objecting to is the irreversibility of Vote Leave’s victory five summers ago this week.
So overwhelming has been the Remain side’s intellectual and moral collapse, those who spent years calling us “little Englanders” are today against a deal that would open us up to more global trade. Just when you imagined that Labour’s Emily Thornberry could not make herself any more ridiculous, the shadow spokesman for International Trade comes out against international trade.
Britain’s membership of the EU turns out to have been an aberration, a mistake made by our inept elites – and corrected by a popular vote. As we begin to realign, we have four decades of relationships to build with the wider world. Our trade agreement with Australia marks the first step.
Douglas Carswell is the President & CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy and is a non-executive director of the UK’s Department of International Trade