Tag Archives: WTO rules

Lib Dems vs Brexit: Vince Cable takes on the WTO Rules argument

We always like to record Lib Dem contributions to significant parliamentary debates when we can. There is no more significant debate than that going on over the future course of Brexit – or otherwise.

Vince spoke on the first day of the debate and he tackled the Brexiteers’ assertions that the WTO Rules are just fine if we have a no deal Brexit.And he should know, because he’s actually done trade negotiations. He totally demolishes the idea that WTO Rules a) mean much b) can be enforced and c) allow smaller countries to trade freely without being bullied by more powerful ones:

One problem of having extended debate and resumption of debate is that we are getting a lot of repetition and recycling of arguments that we have heard many times before. For that reason, I want to focus on one specific issue, which is the idea of World Trade Organisation rules and exactly what they mean. The term “WTO rules” is used casually in every pub, and in every radio interview I encounter, but I suspect that many of the people who use it are not at all clear what it means.

Before getting into the detail of that, I will make one general point about no deal, which was brought out rather brilliantly by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), who got to the heart of this very well. He exposed the fact that no deal is actually a choice. It is not just something that happens; it is the conscious choice of a Government who could choose to revoke article 50, as the Father of the House keeps reminding us. That may be a difficult ​decision and a very unpopular one, but article 50 could be revoked, and by choosing not to revoke it, the Government will be choosing to have no deal, with all its catastrophic—or so they tell us—consequences.

Let me narrow down to the specific issue of what the WTO rules would be if we found ourselves in a no-deal world. The basis on which I speak is that many years ago, long before I came into the House, I was part of a small community of international trade specialists and got involved in negotiating the so-called Uruguay round and then the Doha round as part of the World Trade Organisation—or, as it was then called, the general agreement on tariffs and trade. I saw at first hand the way in which the WTO system operates. I realise that there is no longer just a small community of anoraks, which is what we were. A large number of people now consider themselves experts on trade policy, but the glibness with which the term “WTO rules” is applied leads me to believe that there are probably not too many anoraks, because there are some very real difficulties in applying WTO rules.

The World Trade Organisation is to trade what the United Nations is to peace. It has some admirable principles, but I think most Members, and certainly those on the Government Benches, would consider it seriously negligent of us to make our national defence dependent solely on the rules of the United Nations. Rules have to be enforced, and they have to be effective.

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