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UK trade experts in China visit

Independent experts from the UK are in China this week to discuss prospects for British and Chinese trade after Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Economists and lawyers from the UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) at the University of Sussex are meeting with business people, officials and China-based UK Government representatives during a week-long trip to Beijing and Shanghai (20-25 March).

The trip by British trade experts comes ahead of the UK Prime Minister’s scheduled visit to China in May.

The challenge in achieving post-Brexit trade deals that work in a world of global supply chains is high on the agenda. Dr Ingo Borchert, a UKTPO economist, will make this his key discussion point during talks. He says: “China is an increasingly important trade partner for the UK and our exports to each other contain a large share of components made in third countries. 

“Goods trade, services trade and investment become increasingly interlinked, thus deep trade agreements need to address a range of trade and trade-related areas. Therefore, any meaningful free trade agreement would have to be comprehensive, both with the EU and other countries, such as China.”

Such an approach, Dr Borchert will say, is likely to mean that the UK would need to surrender some degree of policy sovereignty. The rest of the world will be closely monitoring any deal struck between the UK and the EU during the Brexit negotiations.

Dr Emily Lydgate, a UKTPO lawyer specialising in international trade law, is also in China for the trade talks and will dissect the role of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the crossfire of a new world order for trade.

With Trump’s America signalling high trade barriers and distancing itself from – even openly attacking – the WTO, China is poised to step in as champion of liberal, multilateral trade, Dr Lydgate will suggest. She says: “The WTO is playing an important role in Brexit, providing much-needed stability.

“But it will face increasing pressures as an epicentre of Trump’s trade wars.

“Trump has proposed, among other things, 45 per cent tariffs on Chinese imports. While the WTO provides a tremendously successful world trade court, it would be subject to an unprecedented spotlight in delivering legal rulings for such highly politicized disputes.”

Dr Lydgate will also highlight the difficulties with the so-called ‘WTO option’, much mooted as a safety net for the UK in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario in two years’ time. China, whose relatively recent WTO membership has buoyed its growth, and every other WTO member country will need to agree to the tariff rates that the UK adopts.

Dr Lydgate says: “This ‘WTO option’ is not simply a fall back. It rests on a great deal of global co-operation and will require diplomacy.

“Alas, no deal, and relying on WTO rules, is a bad deal for the UK and the EU.”

In the UKTPO, the University of Sussex has the largest concentration of international trade experts in the UK. The group has been working with the UK Government and opposition parties to provide information and inform the thinking in the lead-up to the EU exit.

These latest trade briefings come amidst a wider University of Sussex delegation to China, where the institution has deep links.

A graduation ceremony for 170 Chinese students who studied at the University, and 500 guests, will be held in Shanghai at the Jing An Shangri-La. University leaders will be meeting with partner Universities, such as Renmin University of China, to discuss further strengthening ties.

The delegation will also be spending time with British Council and British Business Council representatives to discuss trade considerations between the two nations as well as Higher Education sector matters.

Sussex’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Adam Tickell, will deliver a keynote address at the China Study Abroad Leadership Forum in Shanghai on 24 March.

By: James Hakner
Last updated: Friday, 24 March 2017