The only two continents not to see economic growth over the last decade are the Antarctica and Europe. We need to look further afield to trade freely with the countries that will dominate the global economy for the next century, free from the regulations and bureaucracy that membership of the EU involves. Meanwhile we will still trade with European countries. The Germans sell us 1 million cars each year. We are by far and away Ireland’s biggest export market. As much as some politicians may grit their teeth when faced with the UK leading the way to a new trading relationship, companies that have a significant UK trading market will not allow their governments to reduce their competitiveness through punitive measures which are not allowed through the WTO rules on internation trade anyway. The UK is the only major economy within the EU that exports more outside the EU than within. That is in no small part due to our history as a maritime trading nation with a somewhat buccaneering approach to international trade. Our island sits well geographically, we are in the right time zone and speak English, the language of business. We do not need free trade agreements to trade with other countries.
Much of the material in the clothes that we wear comes from Bangladesh. So many of the things that we buy arrive on supersized cargo ships from China. India is predicted to be dominate the global economy for the next century. We have no free trade agreements (FTAs) with these countries. Some people talk of the difficulty that we would have in negotiating free trade deals to replace the ones already secured by the EU. I was already confident that as the fifth largest economy we would be able to renegotiate these in good time if required and on favourable terms. Now I look at the list, I am even more so. See if you can spot any of the major global economies missing from this comprehensive list of FTAs completed by the EU:
Kosovo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Ukraine, Montenegro, Albania, FYR of Macedonia, Faroe Islands, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Ecuador, Colombia & Peru, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, South Korea, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Andorra, San Marino.
The top 10 economies in the world are in order: 1. USA, 2. China, 3. Japan, 4. Germany, 5. UK, 6. France, 7. Brazil, 8. Italy, 9. Russia, 10. India. The economies bubbling under the top 10 are Canada, Australia, South Korea, Spain and Mexico. So the EU has no free trade agreement with any of the top 10 not already a member state and only South Korea in the wider group. These are the countries that we will need to concentrate on following Brexit rather than the Faroe Islands, the Seychelles and St Kitts & Nevis as lovely as they all are.
EU member states are not allowed to negotiate individual FTAs with other non-EU countries, they have to be done through the EU trading bloc as a whole. Whereas this has been seen by some as using the leverage of such a big market, it also means that FTAs are incredibly difficult to complete with 28 very different member states all vying to protect their own interests. This has led to the proposed Canadian FTA being held up by an obscure disagreement about Romanian visas and the one with Australia held up by a dispute with Italian tomato growers. I have run a number of small businesses over the last 25 years. The ability to remain agile is a massive strength in business. It should come as no surprise when we read about companies like Amazon, Starbucks and Google running rings around national governments, let alone unwieldy political unions like the EU. Business has changed hugely since the start of the Common Market. Better refrigeration, larger cargo ships and of course, the internet has made it so much easier for people and companies to trade around the world. Graeme Macdonald, Chief Executive of JCB told the Guardian: “[the EU]’s a burden on our business and it’s easier selling to North America than to Europe sometimes.” We need to move on, lift our heads up and look to the rest of the world where an exciting future lies.