Agreeing Britain’s post-Brexit membership terms with the World Trade Organization will not be simple but should be done in a way that causes minimal disruption to global trade, trade minister Liam Fox said on Sunday.
Fox, a leading Brexit campaigner ahead of the June 23 referendum, said Britain did not need to re-apply to join the international trade body when it leaves the European Union as it was already “a full and founding member”.
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But as Britain is currently a member of the WTO through the EU, it will need to agree new membership terms, or schedules of tariffs, following Brexit and those terms will have to be agreed by all other WTO members.
“What we do need to have are the schedules, which are effectively our license to trade. That’s what we are discussing at the present time,” Fox said in an interview with the Huffington Post on the sidelines of the Conservative Party’s annual conference in Birmingham, central England.
“We will want to see a position on WTO schedules adopted in a way that causes minimal disruption. That is not an entirely simple process, and we would never pretend that it is, but neither is it an insoluble riddle.”
Before the referendum, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the rest of the WTO could take years or decades.
The chief executive of Nissan earlier this week said the Japanese automaker could scrap a potential new investment in Britain’s biggest car plant if the country did not pledge compensation for any tax barriers resulting from Brexit.
Asked about threats to withdraw investment, Fox said Britain’s strong legal base offered companies certainty.
“Investment is a balance of risks when you come to look at it, and I think that the UK remains the number one destination for safe investment,” he said.
Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday Britain will trigger the formal divorce procedure by the end of March, but Fox said the government would not rush the process.
“What we want is the best exit for the United Kingdom, not the quickest, and what we need to concentrate on is the quality of the relationship we will have afterwards,” he said when asked if Britain would have left the EU by 2020.
Fox said levels of protectionism globally were on the rise. While declining to comment specifically on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has been accused of promoting isolationist policies, he said the U.S. election debate was lacking in arguments for free trade.
“There is a temptation for politicians to pander to the short term view that protectionism will be the answer but it never really is,” he said. “The debate in the United States at the moment in particular, you are getting much less of a free trade flavour than I have ever known in any election.”