UK joins trade pact with Malaysia and Australia as Sunak claims ‘benefit’ of Brexit

The UK will be the first European nation to join an Indo-Pacific trade pact, in a deal Rishi Sunak has described as putting the UK in a “first position” in the world.

However, the government’s own figures suggest that the economic benefits will be dwarfed by the long-term costs of Brexit.

No10 said the deal, which would see Britain join the likes of Malaysia, Japan and Australia, would “boost the UK economy by £1.8billion in the long term”.

But last week, the official Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed that the long-term damage to the economy from Brexit was projected at 4 percent of GDP.

The PM said the new deal, which would have been impossible while the UK was a member of the European Union, “shows the real economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms”.

Membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will reduce tariffs on UK exports, including food, drink and cars. The pact would also offer new benefits for businesses and support economic growth across the UK, the government said. Under the plans, for example, dairy farmers will benefit from lower tariffs on exports of products like cheese and butter to Canada, Chile, Japan and Mexico.

Ministers insisted the deal will protect the NHS and uphold the UK’s high animal welfare and food safety standards.

Mr Sunak said: “We are an open and free-trading nation at heart and this deal shows the true economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms. As part of the CPTPP, the UK is now in a prime position in the global economy to seize opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation.

“Joining the CPTPP trading bloc places the UK as the first new nation and first European country at the heart of a dynamic and growing group of Pacific economies. British companies now enjoy unprecedented access to markets from Europe to the South Pacific.”

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said the deal was “an important moment for the UK”.

Matthew Fell, the CBI’s interim director-general, said joining the CPTPP was a “real milestone” and that membership “reinforces the UK’s commitment to building partnerships in an increasingly fragmented world”.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the international shadow trade secretary, described the move as “encouraging”.

“But as is so often the case with this conservative government, the devil is in the details. Ministers must provide answers on important issues including consumer safety, food safety, data protection and environmental protection,” he said.

“The Conservative government’s track record of securing good trade deals is desperately bad as their own Prime Minister and MPs criticize the deal they have struck with Australia,” he added.

Naomi Smith, chief executive of campaign group Best for Britain, said: “The irony of this Vote Leave government bragging about joining a new trading bloc will come to the millions of people and thousands of businesses dealing with the fallout from their botched Brexit , do not escape action.”

“Contrary to what the Prime Minister may say, the long distance means this is unlikely to be an economic tipping point. The painful difference is that unlike EU membership, where we have worked to raise standards, pressure from CPTPP members is more likely to result in the UK having lower food standards and environmental protections.”

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