The UK has passed two landmarks in trade over the past week. The UK signed a treaty confirming accession to the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade bloc and the Electronics Trade Documents Bill gained Royal Assent.
Business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch signed the CPTPP treaty at a meeting of the bloc in Auckland, New Zealand. As well as trade, the move is seen as geo-politically significant. CPTPP membership is also supported by the Labour Party, giving welcome unanimity across the two major parties.
Critics note that it is forecast by government to add just £1.8 billion to the UK economy over ten years, an extra 0.08%. Of that exports of manufactured goods could rise by “over £1 billion in the long term”, the government forecasts. Exports to CPTPP countries totally £26.4 billion in 2022.
CPTPP has provisions for non-discriminatory technical regulations, rules of origin, and services related to manufacturing. There will be little change in trade rules with respect to most CPTPP countries, with which the UK has free trade agreements. The exceptions are Malaysia and Brunei, and Malaysia is seen by some firms as an interesting alternative to China for sourcing and local manufacture.
The Electronic Trade Documents Act removes the legal impediment to allowing international trade documents in electronic form to be legally recognised in the same way as paper documents. The government says it can boost the economy by £1 billion over the next decade and says that the UK can help to lead a change in the way the world trades.
Chris Southworth, secretary general of the International Chamber of Trade, UK, writing in the Financial Times, said: “While free trade agreements win headlines and are important to enabling barrier-free trade, the economic gains they offer are dwarfed by the opportunity presented by removing paper and digitalising trade. This is our chance to radically upgrade how the UK trades with her international partners, all at once.
“We have significantly under-estimated just how many companies want to ditch paper.” France, Germany and the US, as well as the UK, will have removed legal barriers to digital documents by the end of 2023, he said.