On January 5, the UK Department for International Trade (DIT) published the UK government’s response to feedback on the DIT’s Trade White Paper on “Preparing for our future UK trade policy” published on October 9, 2017.

The Trade White Paper:

  1. outlined the basic principles that will shape the UK’s future trading framework and the government’s developing approach to a future trade policy;
  2. indicated areas in which the government was preparing legal powers to ensure that the UK is ready to operate independently as the UK exits the European Union (EU);
  3. asked for views on the government’s developing approach and the legal powers, and for feedback on the government’s:
    1. commitments to an inclusive and transparent trade policy;
    2. approach to unilateral trade preferences; and
    3. approach to trade remedies.

Following the publication of the Trade White Paper, the government introduced the following bills to the UK Parliament:

  1. Trade Bill 2017-19; and
  2. Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill 2017-19, previously known as the Customs Bill.

The DIT published the government’s response summarizing the feedback received, and sets out the government’s response and follow-up actions it will take. Of particular note are the following points:

UK’s Membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO)

Once the UK leaves the EU, it will be an independent member of the WTO and will need to establish its own WTO goods schedule and services schedule, which will provide the baseline from which the UK will negotiate free trade agreements with other countries. The Trade White Paper confirmed the government’s intention to replicate its existing commitments as set out in the EU’s schedules of commitments, as far as possible, and submit these for certification in the WTO ahead of leaving the EU. If the schedules are uncertified by the time the UK leaves the EU, the government has stated that they do not anticipate there to be any problems, as “it is not uncommon for WTO members to operate on uncertified schedules for periods of time.”

UK Trade Relationships

Those responding to the Trade White Paper welcomed the government’s commitment to seek a time-limited implementation period after Brexit, as this will allow businesses time to adjust and allow new systems to be put in place. The business community asked for greater clarity to allow for planning. The government also welcomed Donald Tusk’s, the President of the European Council’s, call for discussions on the implementation period to start immediately and that it should be agreed as soon as possible. The government also reiterated that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” but that they hope that the agreements reached so far will form part of a final package that “establishes a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU for the future.”

A copy of the Trade White Paper is available here, and the government’s responses are available here.