Shortly before 9am, the UK’s permanent representative to the WTO, Julian Braithwaite, delivered a statement setting out the country’s new agenda as a “champion of free trade.” The symbolic moment had been eagerly anticipated by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.
This is an historic moment which will give us an independent voice at the WTO for the first time since its inception
Speaking ahead of the WTO session in Geneva, she said: “This is an historic moment which will give us an independent voice at the WTO for the first time since its inception.
“We will be speaking up on issues that matter to people and businesses in Britain, as well as championing free trade against the rising tide of protectionism.”
Mr Braithwaite used his speech to call for the removal of obstacles preventing Britain’s lucrative services industry operating to its full potential overseas.
Julian Braithwaite sits at the WTO in Geneva
He said: “Many things have changed since the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was signed in 1947, by the United Kingdom and 22 other countries, here in Geneva.
“But one thing has not – and that is the United Kingdom’s commitment to global trade.”
Mr Braithwaite highlighted the importance of the services industry to the British economy and said UK companies were calling for the smashing of trade barriers hindering their productivity around the world.
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The symbolic moment was eagerly anticipated by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss
Julian Braithwaite delivers his statement to the WTO
He said: “In the United Kingdom, services are the predominant driver of our economy. They contribute 80 percent of GDP, and employ roughly 26 million people.
“We are the second largest exporter of services in the world.”
He urged the WTO to implement a joint initiative on the domestic regulation of services to make it easier for businesses and governments around the world to access legal, financial, accounting, and other services from British-based experts.
He said: “Individuals and firms often lose valuable time applying and waiting for licences from host regulators.
“Frequently, they have to invest large amounts of money upfront in order to navigate the different and sometimes unpredictable regulatory landscapes. Money that smaller operators can ill afford.”
Mr Braithwaite said one if the UK’s priorities in the WTO will be to increase this global trade in services, to the benefit of least-developed, developed and developing countries, by making services markets more open, more transparent and more competitive.
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He said: “As part of the European Union, the United Kingdom supported the EU Delegation to the WTO in playing a leading role in this initiative.
“Outside the European Union, we look forward to working closely and constructively with our EU colleagues, and with all of you, in bringing this important initiative to a successful conclusion.”
Britain formally left the EU last Friday and is now in a period of transition while free trade deal negotiations take place.
Boris Johnson has vowed to get a deal in place by the end of this year.