Saturday , March 2 2024

What the new Brexit Britain means for East versus West politics

This article was published here.

After five years of wrangling, Britain is finally set to join a huge trade bloc – the catchily-named Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP for short. The CPTPP already includes big economies and key allies like New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Japan.

It is on the front line of the battle to build a strong global economy, free from dependence on China and Russia. It ensures there is a forum for like-minded countries to trade freely and agree favourable rules and conditions, without China or Russia having a seat at the table.

The British Government initially announced it wanted to apply to the CPTPP in 2018. When we finally did apply in 2021, we were the first non-founding country to do so. Since then, successive trade secretaries including Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch have held meetings with member countries to iron out the details of Britain’s membership. Finally, reports suggest everything is agreed and the path is clear.

Joining the CPTPP represents a big increase in Britain’s standing on the world stage. The CPTPP is designed to squeeze the Chinese and Russian economies by excluding them from free trade agreements between member states, such as low tariffs and deregulation. That’s key to cutting off Putin’s war chest and undermining China’s economic might on the world stage.

In the face of emboldened dictators in Russia and China, the Western world needs strong leadership. American leadership under President Biden has been disappointing. In fact, the US is not even a member of the CPTPP. Britain can provide the world what the US is failing to offer.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, Boris Johnson showed how Britain can take the baton and lead the free world against evil, filling the vacuum left by the US. The Government has since increased defence spending and given billions to help Ukraine’s defence efforts.

But our economy still relies to a worrying extent on trade with Russia and China. Disentangling our economy from theirs will be a tough task and it won’t happen overnight, but joining a community of nations committed to the same goal is a big step forward.

By joining the CPTPP, Britain sends a signal to the world that we are ready to step up on key geopolitical issues. We will work with friendly countries like Australia, Japan, Canada and Malaysia to coordinate efforts on all kinds of issues, grow our economies and reduce reliance on China and Russia.

Brexit makes this possible. By being outside the EU Customs Union and Single Market, we are able to ‘take back control’ of our trade policy. We no longer have to give in to whatever daft new rules unelected Brussels bureaucrats have dreamed up. Thanks to Brexit we have a choice.

For example, we can now trade more freely with Canada, lowering barriers for businesses looking for new markets and allowing cheaper prices on shop shelves for consumers, who are looking for bargains in the cost-of-living crisis.

Similarly, we can choose to remove tariffs on palm oil imported from Malaysia, which the government has reportedly agreed it will do as a CPTPP member. That’s only possible because we’re outside the EU. Brussels is set on cracking down on palm oil imports into Europe, never mind lifting tariffs to make it cheaper and easier.

The EU says it wants to restrict palm oil imports because it has concerns about deforestation. But they’ve got their facts all muddled – companies which abandoned palm oil, like the EU wants, ended up chopping down more trees, not less. That’s because it forces manufacturers to switch to other less-efficient oils like sunflower and rapeseed which use more land, water and fertiliser.

A cynic might suggest the EU’s true motive on the palm oil issue is economic, not environmental – that it would prefer to force companies which make food and cosmetics to use European-made products rather than importing them in from Malaysia, even when it’s cheaper and better for the planet than the alternatives.

Because of Brexit, Britain can choose to ignore the EU’s daft rules and join the CPTPP instead. When Britain gets to make its own choices about how and when to trade with other countries, we can unleash free enterprise and economic growth while cementing our position as a leader of the global coalition for freedom and democracy.

That means we can deregulate and remove ballasts which are weighing down our economy. It also means standing up to China and Russia on behalf of the rest of the world is very much in our ballpark. Other countries around the world will look to Britain for guidance and leadership in confronting the economic and political interests of powerful despots. We must not let them down.

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