PAC report right to focus on SME benefit from trade deals

The Department for International Trade (the Department) has a target for 80% of UK trade to be covered by free trade agreements by the end of 2022. It has a challenging programme ahead which includes concluding ongoing trade negotiations, launching negotiations with new partners, joining a complex trade bloc, implementing signed deals and reviewing existing agreements. However, there is a lack of clarity about how the Department will measure whether it is achieving benefits from its programme of trade negotiations so that Parliament can hold it to account for its progress. The Department currently publishes the impact assessments it makes prior to trade agreements being implemented, but the Department has not set any associated targets. There is no guarantee that the agreements will deliver actual economic benefits unless the Department provides vital support to help businesses use the agreements, particularly for smaller businesses wanting to export worldwide.

Responding to the Public Accounts Committee report on trade negotiations, William Bain, Head of Trade Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce said:

“This report rightly highlights that more must be done to help smaller exporting businesses get the full benefits from trade deals negotiated by government. We need to focus on how we support and measure that.

“The BCC’s Trade Manifesto has ideas on both. We need a Trade Growth office within the Department for International Trade (DIT) to focus on ensuring that smaller businesses are properly connected with the export opportunities in UK trade agreements.

“It is also vital that more effort is put into making businesses aware of the preferential tariffs that trade agreements can offer, and that DIT properly measures their take up rate.

The Chambers Network, at home and across the globe, and Chamber Customs have the track record and skills to work with the UK Government to secure both of these aims.

We must maximise the benefits of trade agreements for exporting SMEs if we are to see the real worth of these agreements in encouraging exports and strengthening the UK economy.”

Read the full PAC report here.