UK pledges to be free trade champion as it takes independent seat at WTO


The UK has pledged to be a champion for free trade in its first independent speech given at the World Trade Organization (WTO), having moved away from the EU bloc after Brexit Day last Friday.

The move – first revealed by City AM two weeks ago – saw ambassador Julian Braithwaite take the seat next to his US counterpart, with plans for him to “play a full role in negotiations in matters relating to the UK after transition”.

City A.M. understands the UK is hoping to play a key role in the debate around fishing subsidies, a thorny issue that is expected to come to a head next month in the hope of a final agreement this summer.

The UK will also be seeking a swift resolution to the impasse at the WTO’s dispute resolution system, which are preventing appeals from being heard in international disputes.

Braithwaite is also expected to push for modernisation and reform of the WTO and “encourage and empower developing countries to play a role in shaping the global trade system”.

Yesterday Prime Minister Boris Johnson quoted anti-Corn Law politician and economist Richard Cobden saying “free trade is God’s diplomacy”. He also claimed free trade was being “choked” by “politicians failing to lead”.

Today, Braithwaite said: “The stability and predictability of this system remains vital to all of us and the UK is committed to supporting the international institution that underpin it. There are big challenges facing the WTO today and it is important they are addressed. The UK will play its part in doing so.”

International trade secretary, Liz Truss said: “This is an historic moment which will give us an independent voice at the WTO for the first time since its inception. We will be speaking up on issues that matter to people and businesses in Britain, including crucial UK industries like fisheries and digital trade, as well as championing free trade against the rising tide of protectionism.’

“The WTO is under significant pressure, with all its functions under strain. So, it is more important now than ever that, as one of the strongest supporters of free trade globally, the UK rises to the challenge and does everything in our power to help strengthen and reform it.”