Post-Brexit trade deals

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and South Korean counterpart Yoo Myung-hee signed a free trade agreement (FTA) in order to maintain trade arrangements after Brexit, BBC reported.

This is the first post-Brexit trade deal the UK has agreed with an Asian country and is on similar terms as the ones already established through the existing European free trade agreement the UK currently has with Korea.

South Korea is the fourth largest economy in Asia, producing electronics, steel and auto industry. In just 2018, South Korea exported $6.36bn (£5.0bn) worth of goods to the UK.

With the Brexit deadline set for 31 October, and the UK possibly leaving with or without a deal, the UK realises that it needs to provide continuity in its trading relationship with other countries so that businesses in the UK can be prepared, find the necessary support to maintain growth and productivity.

As Mr Fox said: "The value of trade between the UK and Korea has more than doubled since the EU-Korea agreement was applied in 2011. Providing continuity in our trading relationship will allow businesses in the UK and Korea to keep trading without any additional barriers, which will help us further increase trade in the years ahead. As we face growing global economic headwinds, our strong trading relationship will be crucial in driving economic growth and supporting jobs throughout the UK and Korea."

 

Exporting to South Korea

The secured deal covers South Korean exports such as cars and auto parts. It exports cars and ships to the UK and the UK exports to Korea crude oil, cars and whisky.  The deal will be ratified by the end of October and implemented in November.

According to Andrew Walker, BBC World Service economics correspondent, “Tariff-free trade with South Korea is certainly worth preserving. British goods exports to Seoul climbed sharply after the EU's deal with South Korea was implemented in 2011. Last year the UK sold about £6bn worth of goods there.” South Korea is one of the bigger countries that the UK has enjoyed access through an EU trade deal, with UK goods imports from South Korea exceeding £4bn. The UK is South Korea's second largest trading partner from the EU.

The South Korean international trade secretary, Ms Yoo said: "The deal is significant as it eased uncertainties sparked by Brexit, amid the already challenging environment for exports on the escalating trade row between Washington and Beijing.”

 

Brexit and trade

With the Brexit deadline looming, the UK is trying to seal more agreements with trading partners. If it leaves without a deal, the UK would lose many of the existing trade agreements it currently has as a member of the EU, something that will disrupt 11% of the UK’s total trade.

According to the UK government website, the UK has signed continuity trade agreements with non-EU countries so trade is not disrupted after Brexit. The UK has signed trade agreements with Israel, Iceland and Norway, Switzerland and Chile, among others.

 

UK Importing and Exporting

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UK exports to Europe

Brexit has caused a lot of uncertainty for UK importers and exporters. The difficulties facing many British companies trading overseas have become an inseparable part of Brexit debates. For many, the issue lies with the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

In an article on the Guardian, Gareth Stace, director general of the trade association UK Steel, argues that leaving the EU has the potential to cause a great deal of damage to exports and weaken the sector more.

British Steel

In an attempt to present his views and the general steel industry’s position when it comes to its current issues and Brexit uncertainty, Stace admitted:

“There can be no doubt that the ongoing Brexit uncertainty has contributed significantly to British Steel’s problems. Unable to decipher what the UK/EU trading relationship will be in just five months’ time, planning has become fiendishly complicated for both UK exporters and their EU customers.” He also added that things have become more complicated with the EU’s recent measures seeking to prevent steel imports surging, a move that reflects a more general protectionist turn seen elsewhere.

As Stace wrote, “Post-Brexit, UK steel exports to Europe will be restricted by these measures, with a disorderly no-deal Brexit affecting them particularly badly.”

No deal Brexit is bad, but what about an orderly Brexit?

Stace elaborated on the question of whether a well-organised Brexit would improve things for steel exporters. For example, he questioned those who claim that with the UK being outside the EU, the government would support extensively the steel industry. As he argued, “the UK steel sector has no interest in operating under the support of state subsidies (we are vociferous critics of this practice in places such as China).”

He emphasised that the UK’s ability to provide state support was restricted nonetheless, due to its WTO membership, “which bans certain subsidies outright, and allows others to be counteracted by other WTO members with the imposition of ‘anti-subsidy duties’ – effectively closing off important export markets.” He also pointed out that the EU has already aligned itself in terms of state aid rules, so any agreement between the UK and EU would not be beneficially better. Similarly, other countries such as the US would also want to align themselves with the current provisions when they strike trade agreements with the UK, so the UK would not, in essence, enjoy any special treatment.

“Brexit would not provide greater trading opportunities”

The Brexiters’ mantra has been, since the beginning, based on the premise that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would come with the promise of striking limitless deals. Boris Johnson used this slogan in many occasions, but the “freedom to do our own trade deals,” as many Leavers have proclaimed, is not an easy fit. This is also the case for the steel industry. Stace clarified that Brexit would not come with the opportunity to strike many deals. As he said: “WTO tariffs on steel in developed countries are already zero, and the EU’s expanding list of FTAs is providing tariff-free access to many others. There is little advantage any new UK FTAs could offer.” Additionally, as UK-produced steel “qualifies as EU steel under complicated rules of origin within the EU’s FTAs,” this means that any European country can use it, whereas, after Brexit, UK steel “would be classified as UK not EU, reducing the attractiveness of it to EU manufacturers.”

In essence, Stace explained, “Brexit will not improve the situation for the steel sector but it has the potential to cause a great deal of damage.” For him, the biggest priority is to secure a withdrawal agreement as soon as possible. And this is what most businesses are also demanding.