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Free Trade Agreements

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 6 February 2020

On Monday the Prime Minister set out our approach to negotiations with the European Union. This statement sets out the Government’s proposed approach to negotiations with other priority partners. Further details will be made available to Parliament as the negotiating process develops.

Having left the European Union the UK now faces an opportunity to re-emerge after decades of hibernation as a campaigner for global free trade. According to the IMF, 90% of global GDP growth is forecast to come from outside the EU over the next 5 years. The UK needs to be ready to capitalise upon this. As set out in our manifesto, this Government have ambitious goals for British trade. We aim to secure free trade agreements with countries covering 80% of UK trade within the next 3 years. We will drive a hard bargain and, as with all negotiations, we will be prepared to walk away if that is in the national interest. Independence will allow the UK to become a truly global Britain, championing free trade and showing the UK is a force for good.

A key priority is to deepen trade and investment relationships with like-minded partners, starting with the USA, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. These bilateral negotiations will also be a potential stepping-stone to joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for transpacific partnership. Regarding the UK-USA FTA the Government will be setting out their negotiating objectives in due course, alongside a response to the public consultation as well as an initial economic assessment. This will be the first in a series of statements setting out our plans for FTAs with global partners.

By striking free trade agreements with partners across the globe, the UK has the opportunity to increase prosperity in all parts of our country. In the negotiations the Government will strike a tough bargain and seek an agreement in the national interest that removes tariffs and cuts red tape to support British businesses and benefit British consumers, as well as setting out cutting edge rules that will help underpin our world-class digital economy. Any agreement must respect the autonomy and sovereignty of both parties. In its negotiations, the Government will be acting on behalf of the whole UK family and our overall principle is to ensure all parts of the UK benefit from any deal. In addition, nothing in any agreement will undermine the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change.

The Government have been clear that when we are negotiating trade deals, the NHS will not be on the table. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table. The services the NHS provides will not be on the table. We will not agree measures which undermine the Government’s ability to deliver on our manifesto commitments to the NHS.

As we committed to in our manifesto, in all of our trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.

Over the last 3 years, the UK has developed a world-class trade negotiation function, bringing the best talent from international organisations, leading law firms, business, civil society and Government. The Government have the capacity to conduct all of its priority negotiations.

Further information on some of the priority areas of the UK-US FTA, is set out below.

Goods market access

The FTA will secure comprehensive, far-reaching and mutually beneficial tariff reductions—taking into account sensitive UK products—which will increase access to the US market for UK businesses, and lower prices and increase choice for UK consumers. This market access will be further supported through the FTA by efficient, predictable, and transparent customs procedures, with a reduction in technical barriers to trade. The FTA will aim to remove measures that currently restrict UK trade and to prevent their imposition in future, while upholding the safety and quality of products on the UK market

Trade remedies

An FTA with the US will enable the UK to protect its interests when threatened by unexpected surges in imports of goods or unfair trading practices, while making the appropriate commitments to transparency, due process and proportionate use of trade remedies. It will also remove trade distorting tariffs.

Sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS)

The UK will maintain its own autonomous sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regime to protect public, animal and plant life and health and the environment, reflecting its existing high standards. We will not compromise on our high animal welfare and food standards.


The Government will maintain and seek to advance the UK’s world-leading environmental, labour and anti-corruption standards, including to support domestic climate ambition and UK low carbon industries, technology and innovation.

Trade in services

The FTA with the US will provide a boost for our world-leading services sectors including in key UK export sectors such as financial services, telecommunications, professional and business services, and transport services. The Government will make it easier for professionals from across the UK to do business in the US, including by easing business travel, securing ambitious commitments to ensure fair competition and consolidating and improving market access for UK services exporters.

Mutual recognition of professional qualifications

An FTA with the US will encourage the mutual recognition of UK and US professional qualifications, by strengthening regulatory co-operation, so that qualification requirements do not become an unnecessary barrier to trade.


The US and UK are each other’s biggest investors, creating high-skilled jobs and growing our economies. At the end of 2018, British companies had investments worth £295.1 billion in the US.

The Government will address market access barriers and ensure UK investors operating in the US have the same level of protection and standards of treatment they receive in the UK.


Over 31,600 small British businesses are already exporting goods to the US. The Government will seek to include a specific SME chapter in the US FTA to support and further stimulate this trade.

Digital trade

The Government will set global best practice by future-proofing the agreement to take account of changing technology and developing areas of the economy. For example, the Government will secure cutting-edge provisions which maximise opportunities for digital trade across all sectors of the economy.

Intellectual property

Recognising our two world-leading Intellectual Property regimes, the US FTA will secure provisions that support UK creative and innovative industries, whilst maintaining consumer access via an effective and balanced global framework.

Government procurement

To maximise access for UK companies to Government procurement opportunities at US federal and state level the UK will seek additional market access outcomes that go beyond the level set in the World Trade Organization agreement on Government procurement.