Sir Keir Starmer has called for a “closer relationship with the EU” in a lukewarm response to Britain joining an Indo-Pacific trade pact. The UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) was formally confirmed this morning and it is the biggest trade deal since Brexit.
But the Labour leader said the “yield is very small” as he also called for a “closer relationship with the EU”.
During a visit to a food manufacturing factory in Plymouth, Sir Keir said: “I welcome any trade deal, but I have to say we need to bear in mind that the net contribution to our economy will be something in the order of 0.08 percent.
“What we need alongside that is a closer trading relationship with the EU.
“Businesses across the country are crying out for a better deal than the one that the Government has put in front of them.
“So, yes, good to have a new trade deal, but better to have a closer relationship with the EU to go alongside it and to help our businesses grow our economy and take us through and out of this cost-of-living crisis.”
Sir Keir added: “I do think it’s an important trade deal, but the yield is very small. Hopefully, that will grow over time.
“But the rule in trade is that you’re more likely to trade with your nearer neighbours more and more often, so we do need that improved, that better trading relationship with the EU alongside any other trade deals that we sign.”
The trade pact will slash tariffs for UK exporters to a group of nations which – with Britain’s membership – will have a total gross domestic product (GDP) of £11trillion, accounting for 15 percent of global GDP.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it “will help us unlock the benefits of Brexit for people across the UK”.
Critics say the impact will be limited, with official estimates suggesting it will add just £1.8billion a year to the economy after 10 years, representing less than one percent of UK GDP.
But Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Think of it like us buying a start-up. It’s not about what it’s doing today, but about the potential for growth tomorrow.
“And the CPTPP countries have over 500 million people at the moment, and we’re starting a trade relationship with them that’s going to go into the future for many decades and deliver a lot of growth to the UK.”
Ms Badenoch added: “We’ve left the EU so we need to look at what to do in order to grow that UK economy and not keep talking about a vote from seven years ago.”
Britain is the first new member, and first European nation, to join the bloc – comprising Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – since its formation in 2018.
It follows nearly two years of negotiations, culminating in intensive talks in Vietnam earlier this month when representatives of the 11 existing members agreed to the UK joining.
The deal represents a continuation of the post-Brexit policy “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific region initiated by Boris Johnson.
Tory MP Mark Francois, who chairs the European Research Group of Conservative Brexiteers, told the Express: “Joining the CPTPP is wonderful news, giving British businesses improved access to fast-growing international markets, way beyond the EU.
“Combined with the recent AUKUS security pact, this shows, post-Brexit, Global Britain is becoming an exciting reality, much to the consternation of defeated, frustrated Remainers.”