Coronavirus has shown the strength of our Union; how we truly are Better Together. We will emerge from this pandemic stronger and more united. But we must not look inward, sheltering within our island borders, but instead go out and into the world.
That is why the Government is today kicking off formal trade negotiations with the US, with over a hundred trade negotiators on each side. Using video-conferencing at first this common-sense approach will ensure that trade negotiations can continue during the current pandemic.
From left and right calls abound to onshore supply chains and reverse the trade liberalisation that accelerated our hard-won prosperity. Coronavirus has shown us that they are wrong. More than ever we need to keep trade flowing and build diverse supply chains that are robust in a crisis.
As a proud Scot I know that our exports are the best in the world. From Caithness to the Clyde, we represent the best in cashmere, clothing and leather goods. We have a product that can command a premium and are proud of it. Yet some leather goods face tariffs as high as 20% on exports to the US. A trade deal could slash these barriers and boost growth.
We will lock in our strong trade in whisky and salmon as part of any deal. And our world class negotiation team that will seek to deliver lower tariffs and greater opportunities to export our world leading goods. In particular we will seek to remove the iniquitous 25% tariff on Scottish whisky.
Our negotiators will drive a hard bargain for all industries and people. Our beef and lamb are of unsurpassable quality and flavour. With US beef already 6% more expensive than EU beef this is a growing market for our amazing farmers. This is only one of the opportunities that await us as part of an ambitious agreement.
More trade is not a threat, it’s a way to rev up the economy. Companies that export are more productive, leading to higher wages, and Scotland exports over £8k of goods to the US every minute. An ambitious deal with the US could boost the Scottish economy by £517m alone. So let’s make the most of a free trade agreement and sign a deal that will put more pounds in your pocket.
We are putting at the heart of our US trade deal the 5.9 million small business across the UK who have been hardest hit by this crisis, with a dedicated SME chapter that will cut through existing red tape. Many of these are small tech start-ups and a trade agreement with the US will let us sign up to advanced data and digital chapters, boosting Silicon Glen’s thriving tech centre.
Increased trade does not mean decreased security. By diversifying our trade beyond the EU and China, by reaching out to the US, the Commonwealth, and other allies, we can increase the resilience of our supply chains and the security of the economy. Increased trade with US alone could boost British workers’ wages by £1.8 billion, and is only part of a great prize. The aim is for 80% of UK trade with countries covered by Free Trade Agreements within 3 years.
Though let us be clear, we won’t sign a deal at any price. If a deal isn’t good enough we’ll walk away. The NHS, the price it pays for drugs and its services are not on the table. There will be no compromise on high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. But new Free Trade Agreements can open up market after market to sell the best of British products.
Britain is a great buccaneering, free-trading nation whose wealth was built on engaging with the wider world. Let’s harness that spirit and go out into the world once more.
*Article first appeared in the Scotsman, May 2020