Leaving the customs union is a golden opportunity for free trade

For hundreds of years the UK has enjoyed a rich trading history and culture all over the world, whether it’s selling wool in the markets of Amsterdam in the 16th century or buying computer parts from China in the 21st century.

However, our ability to realise the true potential of our trading success has been hindered by our membership of the EU’s customs union. For the past forty years we have handed control of our trade policy over to Brussels.

This has had a twofold negative impact. Firstly, the EU has a dismal record at negotiating trade deals; countries outside the EU like Iceland and Switzerland with smaller economies and populations than the UK have been able to strike free trade agreements with China. EU negotiations with the USA – the UK’s single largest export market – have dragged on and show no sign of nearing completion.

Secondly, when the EU does strike a deal, it comes with a host of caveats and conditions insisted upon by 27 other countries. These deals are not made with the interests of British businesses and consumers in mind. Our voice is diluted as the horse trading between member states ensues.

One only needs to look at the farce of the EU-Canada deal – which the regional Walloon parliament in Belgium threatened to scupper – to see how broken the system is.

Following the vote to leave the EU on 23 June, a number of major economies have expressed a keen interest in negotiating deals with the UK. The appetite is clearly there for free trade, and outside of the EU’s customs union we can take full advantage of the opportunities that this provides.

Change Britain research has revealed that taking back control of our trade policy and striking deals with just eight economic partners could create up to 400,000 new jobs in the UK across a range of industries and regions.

If we only take into account those countries which have said they want a deal with the UK – such as South Korea, the USA and India – the figure stands at 240,000.

We need to look beyond the confines of the EU.

Our share of exports going to the Union has dropped from 56% a decade ago to 44% today. The European Commission itself admits that ‘over the next ten to 15 years, 90% of world demand will be generated outside Europe’.

Leaving the EU’s customs union provides us with a golden opportunity to become a beacon of global free trade and fulfil our potential as a great trading nation.

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