Wed, May 02, 2018 - Page 10 News List

UK eyes ASEAN markets for post-Brexit push


The lone non-Asian trade minister at last week’s Southeast Asian leaders’ summit in Singapore, British Minister of State for Trade and Investment Greg Hands had plenty of room to make the case that Brexit will not interfere with his country’s ambitious plans in the region.

As it scrambles to roll over some 40 EU trade deals into individual agreements with the UK, London has its eyes on plenty of additional negotiations.

Growth-blessed Southeast Asia, with which it traded £32 billion (US$44 billion) worth of goods and services in 2016, is a priority.

“It’s really important, particularly in the Brexit context, to see that Britain is remaining the same outward-looking, engaged country as it always has been,” Hands said in an interview on Sunday in Singapore. “There’s a lot more we could be doing — our trade with, say, Indonesia is quite low.”

The UK already has ramped up resources to boost its trade with Southeast Asia. Fresh intellectual property attaches in major capitals are adding to the 90 UK officials dedicated to trade in the region, Hands said.

Fellow Conservative lawmaker Ed Vaizey was recently appointed as a trade envoy to the region, with particular focus on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Hands’ meetings on the sidelines of the ASEAN leaders’ summit included talks with Singaporean Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon (許寶琨) as well as Indonesian Minister of Trade Enggartiasto Lukita.

He also met with trade representatives from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, while warning that “obviously we cannot conduct trade entirely independently of politics and humanitarian crises,” referring to the possibility that the ongoing Rohingya crisis in Myanmar could imperil burgeoning trade prospects.

The ASEAN leaders’ meetings, following the finance ministers’ gathering earlier last month, represented another occasion for the region to emphasize its staunch pro-free trade position.

“More and more countries are feeling that we need to be advocates for trade,” Hands said. “If countries like the UK and Singapore aren’t making the case for trade, then we really would be in trouble.”

At the same time, Hands said he does not think a “trade war” is brewing between the US and China.

“Obviously there are a number of trade disputes around the world, as there always are,” he said. “I think we’re concerned about the position of trade around the world, but I wouldn’t use language like that.”

Hands was also tasked with doing his best to convince trade partners in the region that Brexit would not alter the UK’s existing trade arrangements with ASEAN economies, or impede negotiations for new deals.

Some UK lawmakers have been skeptical that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government would be able to transition those EU deals when the Brexit negotiation period begins in March next year, with any new agreements effective from the start of 2021.

Two of those EU agreements are with Singapore and Vietnam.

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