However, this ‘choice’ between the EU and the rest of the world is a false choice. Indeed, being part of the EU is the best way to increase Britain’s trade with emerging markets. As Nick Clegg pointed out in his speech on Europe last week, the EU has free trade agreements in force with 46 countries and negotiations with another 78 countries are currently under way. In addition, the European Parliament last week lent its weight to launching new negotiations with the USA and Japan.
The European Commission has now confirmed that if Britain leaves the EU, it will lose every single EU trade agreement. Our exporters will face new tariffs, new regulatory barriers and new restrictions to services, investment and procurement in crucial emerging markets. If we leave the EU, we will not just damage our trade with Germany, the Netherlands and other EU countries, but also emerging economies such as South Korea, Mexico, South Africa, Colombia and Turkey.
We will have to start our trade policy from scratch without any guarantees that other countries will want to negotiate with us and, if they do, with the likelihood that we will get a worse deal as we would have less clout as a country of 60 million rather than as a block of 500 million. Britain has not negotiated a trade agreement since joining the EU in 1973 and we would need to create a whole new trade civil service from thin air.
This is car crash politics dressed up as patriotism, ideology and faux nostalgia - and it would fatally injure British jobs. EU trade deals are worth a huge amount to the UK. Consider the South Korea agreement, which has been in force since July 2011. British merchandise exports to South Korea in the first half of 2012 were more than double exports from the same period in 2011 when there was no agreement *. This was in spite of the recession. If we leave the EU, we lose this agreement with the result that British exporters to South Korea will be at a huge disadvantage compared to their German, French and Italian competitors.
But Tea Party Tories and UKIP don’t care; they are obsessed with one thing and one thing alone, leaving the EU. Not only are they happy to sever UK links with the EU single market but their policies would also jeopardise Britain’s trade with the rest of the world.
* UK exports to South Korea from Jan – June 2011 were valued at £1 063 030 897, UK exports from Jan – June 2012 were valued at £2 387 040 059.
* Fiona Hall is Leader of the UK Liberal Democrat Delegation in the European Parliament and MEP for the North East of England.