Britain should leave the European Union’s customs union so it can strike trade deals with “economically advanced” Commonwealth countries, a former prime minister of Australia has said.
Tony Abbott backed a report co-authored by Tory MP James Cleverly, calling for the UK to withdraw from the tariff-free customs union to give it the ability to strike new deals with the likes of India and Australia.
The report pointed out that 8% of the UK’s exports go to Commonwealth countries – a share that is growing and is already nearly double that of China.
The UK is also the largest EU goods export destination for countries such as Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa, giving the Commonwealth nations a strong incentive to strike a deal.
The report called for an updated trade white paper, a “trade-only” approach to any new deals, and a “mutual recognition” policy whereby products that can be legally sold in one country in an arrangement can be sold in another in order to avoid “excessive” red tape.
Free trade deals will also go “hand-in-hand” with relaxing visa restrictions on skilled Commonwealth migrants who want to work in the UK.
Mr Abbott said: “The best way to ensure that free trade has few losers, even in the short term, is to begin with much freer trade between like-minded countries with comparable standards of living.
“Free trade agreements with economically advanced Commonwealth countries are the obvious place for Britain to start.”
Mr Cleverly, who co-authored the report for the Free Enterprise Group with Tim Hewish, said: “The Government must a publish a plan to utilise the ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ and build our trade links with the Commonwealth.
“A market of 2.3 billion people and some of the fastest-growing economies in the world is too big an opportunity to ignore.”