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UK aims to conclude Pacific trade group talks by end of 2022

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The UK aims to wrap up negotiations to join the trans-Pacific trade group by the end of 2022 and hopes that the US can be persuaded to rejoin the bloc, according to the international trade secretary.

In an interview with the Financial Times’ Payne’s Politics podcast, Liz Truss said that negotiations with the group of 11 countries was the immediate focus of the government’s “Global Britain” post-Brexit trade agenda.

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The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership includes several fast-growing economies such as Mexico, Malaysia and Vietnam along with established regional players Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Truss said she was hopeful “we will be able to have concluded negotiations by the end of next year” to join the bloc, arguing it would enable the UK to benefit from the “huge” economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Two-thirds of the world’s middle classes are going to live in Asia by 2030 and the types of products that they’re demanding are the types of things Britain produces — whether those high value manufactured goods, quality food and drink, digital and data products, financial services,” she said.

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“The EU is going to be a smaller proportion of the world economy in 20 or 30 years’ time and countries like Vietnam, or Malaysia, which are part of CPTPP are going to be a bigger share.”

Striking a trade agreement with the US is the biggest trading prize for the Johnson government, despite the challenges of differences on agricultural standards. But Truss expressed hope that UK-US trade could be liberalised if America rejoined CPTPP, which it left in 2017.

“The United States was one of the initial parties in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the new administration has not indicated they want to join it. But who knows what might happen in the future.” 

Despite fears from farmers over potential compromises on standards to strike a US trade agreement, Truss said “the important principle for me is that in any negotiations I undertake, we don’t undermine British farmers with their high standards”. She added she was “very confident there is a deal to be done” with the US. 

She also defended the trade deals struck by the UK since formally leaving the EU, despite the government’s internal economic analyses suggesting they will have minimal immediate benefit and will not compensate for the lost advantages from leaving the bloc. 

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“The key point about the analysis that we conduct is it is static comparative analysis, so it doesn’t predict the future. It simply says in the state where we are now, how can we expect things to change across the economy. It isn’t a forecast of the future.”

Truss also announced that her Department for International Trade would accelerate the relocation of around a fifth of its 2,455 staff from Whitehall as part of the ‘levelling up’ programme to address regional inequalities.

The ministry aims to have 500 staff based in Darlington’s Treasury North campus by 2030. The venue will also include officials from the Treasury, Department for Business, Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the Office for National Statistics. 

The department has already advertised a hundred positions for the ‘UK Trade and Investment North’ department. DIT will also have one of the department’s five directors-general based permanently in Darlington. Truss also hopes to expand its offices in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff with a total of 750 officials based outside Whitehall by 2030.

Truss, who is frequently rated as the Tory party’s most popular member of the government by the ConservativeHome website, did not deny she had ambitions to one day lead her party.

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“I am extremely happy as trade secretary, I think I’ve got the best job in government, striking these new trade deals for the first time in 50 years,” she said. “The prime minister is doing a fantastic job. And I’m sure he’ll be in office for many years to come.”

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