News article

UK Trade Policy Forum 2023: Trade-offs in trade

Published 6 March 2023

Our inaugural Forum was held in conjunction with Chatham House and Resolution Foundation in London, Chatham House on Tuesday 28th February 2023.

Over 150 leading trade-policy actors from government, civil society, academia, the media and the private sector came together to discuss all things trade and trade policy. The keynote addresses were from the Director of Chatham House, Bronwyn Maddox and the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Business and Trade, Gareth Davies.

The Forum aims to facilitate the sharing and deepening of knowledge and understanding of the challenges facing UK trade policy and the world trading system, and also to stimulate collaboration and the co-production of knowledge on trade.

Opening the Forum, Co-Director of the CITP, Professor L. Alan Winters, noted the inherent need for trade-offs in trade policymaking, and the challenges this raises when making trade policy choices and in considering the formulation of an inclusive trade policy. A theme that continued throughout the day.

The Forum took place the day after the UK and EU signed a new deal, The Windsor Framework, which appears to have successfully improved upon the Northern Ireland Protocol. This raises the prospect of a significant improvement in UK relations not just with the EU but also with the US.

In her opening remarks Bronwen Maddox, Director, Chatham House commented: “There is a sense that arguments for trade are beginning to win out against reflexes and opinions on different trade-offs.”

Her keynote speech focused on the UK’s trade relations around the world and the need for a comprehensive approach to trade policy for the UK.

The second keynote, from Gareth Davies, Permanent Secretary, Department for Business and Trade, covered opportunities for UK trade, including emerging markets and the digitalisation of trade which should drive rapid growth in demand for high-value goods and services (in which the UK is strong). But Davies also acknowledged significant challenges for UK trade-policymaking with trade policy increasingly being used as a tool of economic statecraft as well as the impact of climate change and new technology on trade.

Panel discussions involving representatives from the private sector, civil society, academia, think tanks and the civil service were held on the following topics:

  • Supply chain resilience
  • Climate change and trade
  • Trade policymaking within the UK
  • Food standards within the UK
  • Workers and Trade
  • Challenges of digital trade

Key points from these discussions echoed those of the keynote addresses, dealing, inter alia, with geopolitical risks, health and welfare, technological development and digitisation. Trade policy needs to be aligned with urgent climate goals, and trade policymaking needs to be more open, consultative, transparent and inclusive.

Concluding the day, Faisal Islam, Economics editor of the BBC, chaired a roundtable discussion, focussed on UK trade policy priorities, involving Angus MacNeil MP, Chair of the House of Commons International Trade Committee; Creon Butler, Chatham House; Sophie Hale, Resolution Foundation; and Michael Gasiorek, Co-Director of the CITP.

The discussion was wide-ranging. Discussants identified the need to understand and prioritise the factors that are important in driving UK prosperity and the impacts across different areas of the UK, while simultaneously bearing in mind key challenges such as climate change, geopolitics, supply-chain resilience and the diversity of approaches to trade policy across the UK devolved nations. The importance of focusing policy on areas where policy interventions are likely to have more traction was identified.

There was some discussion of how a mid-sized economic power such as the UK relies on the multilateral rules-based trading system and how it should navigate the increased trade policy interventionism in the world. For the UK, the need to prioritise trade policy to support key areas of UK competitiveness, in particular services and advanced manufacturing, was noted. The need to clearly articulate a UK trade strategy which explicitly recognises the trade-offs between economic efficiency, inclusiveness and economic security in making policy was highlighted.

The Centre for Inclusive Trade Policy aims to help formulate an effective trade policy that delivers something for all parts of society. This first Forum enabled an exploration of the determinants, trade-offs and direction of trade policy for many people working or concerned with trade policy with a view to delivering more inclusive trade policy.

The UKTPF will be an annual event aimed at bringing the UK trade policy community in one place and we are already planning and looking forward to next year.

Five people sat on chairs, four look towards the speaker on the left