As a European Union member, the UK is automatically part of about 40 trade agreements which the EU has with more than 70 countries. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March, it would lose these trade deals immediately.
To avoid this, Theresa May‘s government says it wants to replicate the EU’s trade agreements “as far as possible” and have them ready to go in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, told MPs in January last year that the government wanted to achieve “continuity and stability” by ensuring that the UK would continue to benefit from these arrangements.
So how much progress has been made?
Four out of 40
The UK has (so far) only agreed four deals. Labour’s Shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner, said he understood that talks on 19 other deals were “significantly off track” and that “two are not even being negotiated”.
In response, Mr Fox said talks to replicate the remaining agreements will “go down to the wire”.
Such arrangements include relaxing certain rules, reducing taxes (tariffs) on imports and exports, or granting easier market access.
The government estimates that about 11% of UK trade relies on the EU’s agreements with 70 countries.
The agreements the UK has struck are:
- Switzerland (signed 11 February)
- The Faroe Islands (1 February)
- Eastern and Southern Africa (31 January)
- Chile (30 January)
Switzerland is the latest to be signed. The Department for International Trade says that trade between the UK and Switzerland was worth £32.1bn in 2017.
Under the UK-Switzerland agreement, which was confirmed in Bern on 11 February, tariffs (taxes on goods) will continue to be avoided on the vast majority of goods traded between the two countries.
Without the deal, the UK government says the British motor industry could have faced up to £8m in tariff charges, while aluminium exporters could have faced up to £4m.
An additional agreement was also signed in Bern by Liechtenstein’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Aurelia Frick. It applies the main parts of the Swiss-UK trade deal to her country too. Read more