“Unshackled” from the trade policy of the European Union, the United Kingdom is pursuing formal economic ties with states like Georgia even as it continues to press for a comprehensive bilateral agreement with the U.S., a top trade official for the British government said Tuesday.
Visiting Atlanta on an extended tour of the U.S., Minister of State for Trade Policy Penny Mordaunt framed the U.K.’s new position outside the EU as an opportunity to shrug off protectionism, state subsidies and interventionism in service of the “global good” of a rules-based global economy where companies compete on the merit of their products or services.
“It’s really about recognizing that trade is good in itself,” the Conservative member of parliament told Global Atlanta in an interview. “It creates growth, it alleviates poverty. It enables fantastic inventions which help the planet and save people’s lives to be invented and come to market faster.”
But even as the U.K. works to reform the World Trade Organization and achieve regulatory links with partners that reduce barriers and shore up supply chains, it can take a bottom-up approach to trade advocacy here in the U.S.
“Our newfound freedom means that we can now build formal links with states through memoranda of understanding to create a shift in trade relationships, and we are exploring these wherever we go,” Ms. Mordaunt said during a speech at The Carter Center moderated by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta. “We now have several discussions under way about liberalizing regulations and increasing partnerships in key growth areas, cutting bureaucracy and increasing flexibility in the core areas of economic trade between our countries.”
During a business roundtable earlier Tuesday at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Ms. Mordaunt was light on details about potential state-focused MOUs, saying that while each agreement would vary in specifics, the principle of reducing friction for business would remain consistent.
Some states have expressed interest in mutual recognition of qualifications, others on initiating direct talks between regulators or promoting their competitive sectors. For its part, Georgia has become increasingly focused on industry clusters like the electric vehicles, film and financial technology, among many others.
Either way, Ms. Mordaunt said “this neck of the woods” — presumably the Southern states she has visited this week — seemed a likely place to find the “fastest uptake” that could show momentum toward the bilateral trade agenda. Serving as a member of parliament for Portsmouth, England, Ms. Mordaunt noted that local jurisdictions can often be more nimble than slow-moving national bureaucracies. She also mentioned that partners of all political persuasions on her extended stateside tour have expressed support for a trade deal.
— Penny Mordaunt (@PennyMordaunt) December 11, 2021
An unabashed supporter of Brexit whose book “Greater” outlines its promise for the U.K.’s role in the world, Ms. Mordaunt took issue with the idea that retreating from the EU meant embracing isolationism, noting that the U.K. is retooling its trade relationships, reinventing its border and establishing trade as a tool to empower developing economies and shore up military alliances.
The former development minister and defense minister framed Brexit as proof that the U.S. and U.K. share an enterprising, independent spirit that underpins their alliance and economic dynamism. Embracing these ideals and strengthening the transatlantic link can bring a much-needed jolt after a time of “political and constitutional gymnastics” in both countries that have led to questions about the durability of both democracy and capitalism since 2016.
“There is a global battle between two competing versions of capitalism, one which is checked by democracy and organized by competition, wide-eyed to the limits of the state and has the progress of all of humanity as its polaris,” Ms. Mordaunt said. “And another is a state-led version where government distortion to seek specific ends is the chosen course.”
The U.K. embraces the former, she said, contrasting the country’s approach with that of the European Union, which she described as aiming to bend other countries’ policies to the whims of the bloc through “harmonization” of regulation.
“We want the way our regulatory systems interoperate with others to be based on adequacy and equivalence. That is a seismic shift, and it requires a paradigm shift in the American response in order to maximize the opportunity for all in this. It’s not every day that a G-7 country does that — leaves the orbit of the EU to enable it to be closer to others, closer to you,” she said in the speech.
In discussion with Global Atlanta, she elaborated further:
“It’s about really trying to maximize the good and not require our partners to have identical regulatory frameworks, but having as your own agriculture commissioner described it to me, trade that fits. It can be different in different places,” she said, noting her recent meeting with Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black. “And actually, that’s really important to the U.S., because Georgia is not the same as South Carolina or Tennessee. You’re all very different. And you need to be, because that’s your offer; it’s who you are, so we want our new system to fit.”
At the Carter Center speech and the business breakfast, she emphasized the economic opportunities of AUKUS, the new Indo-Pacific security framework among the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia that will help ensure interoperability among the countries’ defense platforms. When it comes to geopolitical tensions with China, Western allies should be focused on the benefits of what the U.S. calls a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” she said, rather than simply on aircraft carriers.
“What we need to be talking about is the prosperity the rules-based order that we support can deliver, and the opportunities for the nations in that region,” Ms. Mordaunt said.
Trade and prosperity should be the prism through which issues like global sustainability and aid are viewed as well, she said, arguing that the U.K. can become a gateway for American companies accessing emerging-market opportunities and an agent for inclusive growth in the developing world, its position as an interlocutor with many key world regions making it a “player on the global chessboard.”
“The U.S. needs to understand and recognize the U.K.’s new position. This is far more significant than just the size of its market. When American set itself free, it was a small economy. It is my hope that our move will act as a catalyst to greater trade liberalization around the world, driven by democracy and freedom, with fairness, free markets and competition underpinning everything that we do.”
She went on:
“Brexit is not an event to be mourned by the international community, or an act of self harm, or one that requires us to be punished. It is a massive opportunity to anyone who believes in democracy and the power of trade as a force for good in the world.”
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