The past few weeks has seen the long awaited start of EU trade negotiations with both Australia and New Zealand. Free-trading, advanced economies, the have both been notable omissions from the EU’s treaty collection, lacking either talks or a signed trade deal.
Given the length of time it usually takes to negotiate and implement trade deals (negotiations were launched with Canada in 2009 and Parliament has only ratified the agreement this week) it is unlikely the UK will ever benefit directly from these talks. Nevertheless, the UK Government has welcomed the start of the EU talks and pledged to involve itself constructively.
Both Australia and New Zealand are both priority countries for post-Brexit trade deals. Working groups have been started with them, which have preliminary discussions about ambitions towards bilateral trade and investment.
But the pace in any future UK negotiations is going to inevitably set by the commencement of these EU talks, especially as the UK will still be negotiating its own future relationship with the EU. Given that, it is particularly pleasing to see that the EU’s newly published negotiating directives once more feature digital trade as a key item.
These directives build on the EU’s first separate digital trade chapter in its renegotiation with Mexico. Trade is increasingly digital, and even more traditional trade is now digitally enabled, so getting this right in free trade agreements is important. The UK can build on this progress when its own negotiations begin and will need to make sure that it also puts digital and tech front and centre to ensure its deals stand the test of time.
However, with the UK’s own negotiations still at least 9 months away from even commencing, and the EU’s discussions likely to take years, it is good to see that the UK is taking its own steps to boost digital trade with both Australia and New Zealand. Measures like the UK-Australia ‘fintech bridge’, which helps UK fintech firms expand internationally, are immediate and welcome ways that the Government can directly aid the expansion of UK tech businesses. Both countries are also already investing in the UK, with 95 FDI projects in the UK between them in 2017-18, with over 2,400 jobs created, there is already a substantial trade that the UK can actively secure and promote.
Australia and New Zealand might physically be a long way away, but digitally they are closer than ever and making it easier to trade with them will bring them closer still.