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Economy Economy

Replicate all existing EU free trade agreements

Last updated: 08:53pm 16 December 2019

We will seek to replicate all existing EU free trade agreements and support the ratification of trade agreements entered into during our EU membership.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.15

Our verdict

By virtue of its EU membership, the UK participates in approximately 40 free trade agreements with 70 countries. The EU is our main trading partner, accounting for 45% of all UK exports and 53% of all UK imports in 2018. This policy is a promise to seek to replicate all existing EU free trade agreements (FTAs).

Since the general election, the government amended this pledge, stating it would replicate all EU trade agreements “as far as possible”. That guidance document, however, was later withdrawn. The guidance now states that the government is aiming for “new agreements to replace EU trade agreements after Brexit”. In terms of this policy pledge the shifting language is significant – “replacing” something is not the same as “replicating” it: a replica is an exact copy.

By the end of its time in office, the government had agreed 20 continuity deals covering 50 countries or territories, and mutual recognition agreements with other key partners (such as the US and Australia). These deals will not be introduced until key Brexit-related bills – crucially the four-times-rejected Trade Bill – are passed.

The government has failed to replicate all existing EU free trade agreements. We think that failure, combined with the fact that the promise to “replicate” has morphed into a promise to “replace” means this policy is ‘broken’.

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