Saturday 3 December 2016

Britain could join free trade area as 'associate' member

Christopher Hope

Published 12/11/2016 | 02:30

Newt Gingrich is now tipped to be president-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state. Photo: AP
Newt Gingrich is now tipped to be president-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state. Photo: AP

Britain could become an "associate" member of the North American Free Trade Area after it leaves the European Union, it has emerged.

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The plan was first proposed nearly 20 years ago by US senator Newt Gingrich, who is now tipped to be president-elect Donald Trump's secretary of state.

Conservative MPs in the UK are backing the idea as a way of ensuring that Britain makes the most of opportunities after it leaves the EU, which is currently likely to be March 2019.

This could have a big impact on Ireland as our nearest neighbour and biggest trading partner looks across the Atlantic and joins a large trading area outside the EU.

Nafta looks set to be reformed or scrapped after president-elect Trump repeatedly attacked it during the US presidential campaign.

This week Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was willing to renegotiate Nafta once Mr Trump becomes president in the new year.

Mr Gingrich, when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives, raised the idea in April 1998 and it was backed by Margaret Thatcher and right wing Eurosceptics in Britain, but condemned by the Labour government.

Its supporters argue that a new Nafta including the UK is possible once Britain has freed itself from its obligations to the EU.

The new arrangement - perhaps reviving the name of the old North Atlantic Free Trade Area - would exploit the close trading ties between Britain and the USA.

The two countries have similar policies towards the free market, and more open to trade, reliant on markets and tougher on cronyism.

Pro-Brexit Tory MPs welcomed the idea. Jacob Rees-Mogg said: "What could be bad about it? As long as it does not stop us doing free trade deals with other people too.

"This is one of the great virtues of Brexit - we can look at all these things and if we think they are good we can tag along.

"We should follow up every opportunity because that is the wonderful position we are in. Prior to 23 June we could not have had this discussion."

Irish Independent

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