U.K. Holds Back Trade Scrutiny Plan After Striking EU Deal

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The U.K. is holding back its plan for evaluating the economic impact of new trade deals, which was prepared before Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed the post-Brexit agreement with the European Union.

According to an internal email seen by Bloomberg, the Department for International Trade was ready in mid-December to release a 20-page document -- also seen by Bloomberg -- committing the government to regular monitoring and evaluation reports of free-trade agreements signed by the U.K.

A person familiar with the matter said publication was delayed because ministers didn’t want that level of analysis applied to the EU accord. Another person said work on assessing trade deals was paused because the timing clashed with the signing of the pact with the bloc.

“We do not comment on leaks,” the Department for International Trade responded in a statement, when asked by Bloomberg why publication of the document was delayed, when it will now be published and whether the framework for scrutinizing deals will apply to the U.K.-EU agreement.

Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen brought the tortured Brexit process to an end on Christmas Eve, striking a deal to ensure zero-tariff trade in goods between Britain and its biggest trading partner following its split from the bloc.

Britain has since said it won’t publish an impact assessment of the pact, despite having done a similar analysis for other major accords such as its newly-signed agreement with Japan. Johnson has himself said the EU deal doesn’t go as far as the U.K. wanted in areas such as financial services.

‘Avoid Scrutiny’

“Ministers need to explain why this document was pulled from publication,” said Bill Esterson, international trade spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party. “It’s no surprise that the government is trying to avoid scrutiny in this area, but hiding the true impact of trade agreements does nothing to help British exporters.”

The economic implications of the EU deal are deeply sensitive to Johnson’s government, due to pledges made during and after the 2016 Brexit referendum that Britain would prosper outside of the bloc. The weeks since the new trading relationship took effect on Jan. 1 have been marked by reduced freight volumes, higher costs and delays to shipments.

In November, the U.K.’s spending watchdog said a free-trade deal with the EU would leave Britain’s gross domestic product 4% lower over the long run, compared with staying in the bloc. That analysis from the Office for Budget Responsibility dates from before the actual deal was agreed.

In its “Free Trade Agreements: Monitoring and Evaluation Framework” document, the U.K.’s trade department sets out plans for biennial monitoring reports to assess trade flows following new trade deals. It also details plans for evaluating reports after five years to “robustly assess an FTA’s impact including what effects it has, for whom and why.”

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