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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Not fit for purpose

The National Audit Office tells us something that I believe many already suspected, Liam Fox's International Trade department is not fit to secure post-Brexit deals.

As reported by the Independent, the NAO has criticised Liam Fox’s running of the Department for International Trade (DIT) for failing to even properly set out the “capabilities and level of capacity” it will need to deliver for British business. They have also raised fears that DIT will never secure the “specific trade and negotiation skills” required, because of rapid turnover in the civil service:

What was described as a “deeply worrying” report is published after Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump’s Commerce Secretary, placed further hurdles in the way of future trade talks by describing the US as a victim of a global trade war.

The rest of the world should expect more tariff hikes from Washington in retaliation, he warned – after the US imposed tariffs of up to 50 per cent on imports of washing machines and solar panels from China and South Korea, Mr Ross said.

“Trade wars are fought every single day,” Mr Ross, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said. “And, unfortunately, every single day there are also various parties violating the rules and trying to take unfair advantage.

The paper adds that the NAO report follows repeated criticism that Dr Fox has failed to sign up experienced negotiators, who have instead been poached by the EU, ahead of its trade talks with the UK:

Last year, The Independent revealed that, when asked to list how many experienced trade professionals it employs, DIT – set up when Theresa May came to power, in 2016 – could list only one.

Just months after the Brexit vote, Dr Fox accused British business of failing to prepare for the new trade deals he would negotiate and for becoming “too lazy and too fat” on previous successes.

Now the watchdog has warned the department has “put back some of its delivery milestones as the timetable for legislation and the overall negotiation process has moved on”.

It raised the alarm that the civil service model, which sees staff move every few years, is “not best suited” to developing specific trade and negotiation skills, with a “premium” on recruiting outside staff. “Considerable work will need to be done to build skills that have not existed in government for a generation,” the NAO said.

So much for all those promises and reassurances on trade deals during the referendum campaign.
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