What does the government’s pledge to improve market access for developing countries mean?

David Davis recently said that Brexit was as complicated as landing on the moon. If you’re trying to make sense of all the related acronyms you might agree. If you don’t follow developments in the EEA, EFTA or the GSP, if you don’t know your EBA from your EPA then you might be unsure what to make of a government announcement that, once the UK leaves the EU, it intends to continue the Everything But Arms scheme (EBA) which provides the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) with duty-free market access.

In a previous Bond blog, we highlighted some of the implications of Brexit on developing countries, with the prospect of increased taxes and loss of market access being of critical importance. Since then we’ve been asking the government to make a commitment that developing countries would not lose out as a result of Brexit and to seek to improve on current EU policy.

So the announcement is very welcome. It means that import taxes will not be applied to goods from some of the poorest countries, improving their competitiveness.

It’s a great first step in response to our campaign and provides much-needed reassurance for businesses and producers in developing countries who rely on exports to the UK to earn a living and work their way out of poverty.

Crucially the announcement contained a pledge to maintain and improve the market access offered to the next tier of countries, those covered by other initiatives including the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), GSP+ and Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). The details have yet to be announced but we’ve already made some practical suggestions including improving the range of products benefiting from tariff-free access, flexible rules of origin and more nuanced ways to identify the most vulnerable countries. An improved non-reciprocal alternative to the problematic EPAs would have significant developmental benefits and would be a simple path for the UK to take.

Finally, the government also reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring that UK companies trade in ways that protect human rights and the health and safety of workers. As the UK develops trade policies for the 21st century we want it to ensure that commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals, UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Paris Climate Accord inform its approach.

If you’re interested in assessing the complexity of lunar missions I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place. If you’d like to learn more about the work we’ve been doing on post-Brexit trade policy and development then feel free to get in touch.

Matt Grady is Policy and Advocacy Adviser at Traidcraft Exchange. This blog is cross-posted at Bond.org.uk

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