Labour would pursue fewer but better trade deals if it won the election, said trade policy chief Jonathan Reynolds on Wednesday in a jab at the controversial Australian and New Zealand agreements.
His comments came as the opposition party unveiled its new trade strategy, which he said will focus on a “securonomics” approach.
Labour’s shadow secretary for business and trade criticised the government’s decision to pursue several high-profile trade agreements at once since leaving the EU to “prove a point”.
“I don’t think you can find another example of a country negotiating so much simultaneously, and you have to wonder about the impact that has on the overall quality,” Reynolds said at an event in London.
The Australia and New Zealand FTAs, signed by then foreign secretary Liz Truss in 2021 and which went into force in June this year, were the first major post-Brexit deals the UK landed.
However, they have received fierce backlash from British producers, particularly farmers, who claim the deal offers little benefits to them. Former environment secretary George Eustice famously branded the Australia deal “a failure”.
In addition to the Aus-NZ deals, Britain also joined the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) alongside countries like Canada, Mexico and Japan.
Negotiations for a major free trade deal with India, led by business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch, are also underway.
With a robust trade strategy designed alongside businesses large and small, we can look beyond the horizon with confidence, position Britain in a much stronger place on the global market and boost British trade to grow the economy.— Jonathan Reynolds (@jreynoldsMP) November 16, 2023
That is what Labour has to offer the country pic.twitter.com/lXdPlqAZMj
Labour’s Reynolds supported the India deal and said any countries currently negotiating with the UK would have a “willing partner” in Labour.
But he emphasised the need for higher quality deals and a clear trade strategy going forward.
“The specifics of finishing those deals depends on where they are, but I think focusing more on the quality of what we’re seeking to achieve in each of these negotiations is a far better objective than the kind of scattergun strategy we see today,” Reynolds said.
He also pledged to boost exports by small businesses, with the announcement of a task force in partnership with the Federation of Small Businesses to remove barriers to British SMEs.
Small and medium-sized businesses make up the largest chunk of those most affected by Brexit. Reynolds reiterated Labour’s commitments to improve trade relationships with the EU, including negotiating a veterinarian agreement with the bloc that would vastly reduce the need for costly border checks.
The trade policy unveiling is part of Labour’s efforts to woo big business as it gears up for a potential general election next year, with polls putting it around 20 points ahead of the Conservatives.