A Tory general election victory is only possible by proving Brexit is a success | Express Comment | Comment

January 30, 2024
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In the short-term, yes – boosting the economy, controlling migration, removing EU red tape are Brexit victories. But Rishi Sunak must also show a long-term vision for how Brexit is laying the foundations for future growth.

Opening up overseas markets for British exports – especially fast-growing Asian markets – is crucial. Firstly, because of the boost to British jobs and industry; and secondly because of the opportunity to leap ahead of the EU, which has failed spectacularly to advance new trade deals in Asia.

What are trade deals for? They are about removing obstacles to trade: whether financial obstacles such as up to 150% tariffs on certain goods as cars or whisky with India, or legal such as licensing of services, or recognising professionals such as doctors, architects or accountants to be of similar standard so no further long training is required.

The Government and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, have made strong progress already. The pan-Asian CP Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) agreement, which includes Australia, Japan, Malaysia and others, was a triumph.

This is the largest trade block in the world – not the EU, and the Asia-Pacific region is estimated to bring 90 percent of future economic growth, as Europe fades in importance. The CPTPP comes without all the baggage of excessive legislation and interference the EU demands. It is about trading opportunities not building a political superstate.

Whilst the UK is a member of the world’s largest-ever trading block, with the USA and several Latin American countries due to join, Brussels sits on the sidelines and sees yet more opportunities pass by.

Another major plus is the advance of negotiations with India – the final touches are being made to a sectoral trade deal that would again leapfrog Britain above our competition, in accessing the vast Indian market. If that agreement can be finalised before the election it ranks as another tick in the Brexit column.

I was born in India, in the vibrant commercial city of Bombay (now Mumbai) and see huge potential in a deal that removes much of those massive 150 percent luxury goods tariffs whilst cooperating more on services with a country of 1.4 billion people and an economy just ahead in size of the UK and growing quickly.

Next on the list must be countries such as Indonesia. This is the world’s third-largest democracy with 270m people, and an incredible growth rate that has topped 5 percent every single year since 2010 (with the exception of COVID).

The IMF predicts that South-East Asia, led by Indonesia, will have the fastest growth in imports over the coming 5 years – whereas the EU will remain mostly flat. In other words, when Britain wants to sell goods, Indonesia is a great export market.

Yet the EU’s relationship with Indonesia has collapsed thanks to typical protectionist EU tariffs and red tape on Indonesia’s exports of palm oil, which is essential for consumer goods and is produced under a certified sustainable regime. Indonesia’s deforestation rate has reduced faster than any other country, and the President signed a moratorium to enforce no-deforestation rules for palm oil.

The EU is applying the same protectionism to rubber and other Indonesian exports as well. The EU is obsessed with political posturing – throwing up barriers in the guise of ‘sustainable development’ and ‘human rights’ at the expense of straightforward trade and the jobs that go with it.

We must not make the same mistake: in fact, tariffs on sustainable palm oil and other imports should be reduced. Flying the flag for free trade – and for British business – means ignoring excessive demands from the siren voices of the Green Blob and the other Whitehall vested interests, and focusing on the British national interest.

There is, though, more to this than simply export earnings and GDP numbers. Indonesia must be a priority for strategic reasons too. As we build new power grids, smartphones and electric cars, critical minerals will be needed in huge quantities. We don’t have them – in fact, almost no-one in Europe does.

Indonesia does. It is one of the world’s largest producers of copper, tin, nickel and cobalt – fundamentals for building the power supplies and technology components of the future.

Preferential access to those supplies, and building relationships with the governments and companies who export them, would be a huge step forward for Britain’s energy security, and for our digital economy.

There is still time for the government to make this a reality. The Indian elections are expected in April; it looks like a final UK-India deal will be in place by then. That frees up our negotiators and our political leaders to focus on Indonesia for the five or six months before the Prime Minister goes to the country and asks to be re-elected. What a coup it would be if Britain had three major Asian trade deals in place – CPTPP, India and Indonesia – where the European Union has none.

This year’s election will still be about Brexit, make no mistake. Voters know that Sir Keir Starmer was the Second Referendum ringleader – and they know he will try to cosy up to the EU at every opportunity.

That means almost certainly that Starmer would abandon promising Asian trade deals because they diverge from EU politics and regulation. The more that the UK Prime Minister can show that Brexit is working, the less likely the country is to allow Starmer to sabotage it. So Go East, Prime Minister – and cement the trade deals that Britain needs.



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