UK's Kemi Badenoch to push for trade deal at Abu Dhabi WTO summit

Ms Badenoch and Greg Hands will be among 150 ministers at the summit in the UAE

The UK Business and Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenoch. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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British Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch will visit Abu Dhabi this week to push for a tariff-free trade deal at a summit of the world’s business ministers.

Ms Badenoch will also use the event to advance trade deal talks with ministers from Gulf nations.

The visit could also see her come face to face with the Canadian Trade Minister, Mary Ng, days after being challenged over a claim that trade talks with Ottawa were continuing.

Ms Badenoch and UK Minister of State for Trade Policy Greg Hands will be among 150 ministers gathering in the UAE seeking to negotiate global rules that affect tariffs and regulations.

“Free trade creates jobs, opportunities for businesses and puts money in people’s pockets," she said.

“We want to see more barriers torn down, not new ones being put up.

"This is why it’s important the UK is here at MC13, to secure meaningful outcomes for companies and consumers back home and around the world as part of the government’s plan to grow the economy and boost opportunities for our young people.

"I look forward to working with members this week to make that happen.”

The Department for Business and Trade said the UK delegation will also meet all six Gulf Co-operation Council Trade Ministers to advance talks on a free-trade agreement.

It will be the first time Ms Badenoch gathers with all six ministers at once, the DBT said.

The summit comes after she was challenged last week for saying in January that talks were continuing with Canada to avert a disaster for UK car exports.

Concerns have been raised over British carmakers potentially being hit by a “tariff wall” when rules of origin in a current trade continuity deal with the country expire at the end of March.

Ms Badenoch told MPs last month there were “discussions” being had with Ottawa but the Canadian high commissioner to the UK later appeared to dispute the suggestion.

Ralph Goodale told the business and trade committee that “as far as I’m aware, since the UK announced its pause on January 25, there have been neither negotiations nor technical discussions with respect to any of the outstanding issues”.

Labour chairman of the committee Liam Byrne has said Ms Badenoch has “questions to answer” over the remarks she made about the negotiations.

A government source said this week that Ms Badenoch would be “continuing discussions” about outstanding issues with her Ms Ng at the WTO summit.

“The Business and Trade Secretary told the House she was having ‘multiple discussions’," the source said.

"These are very different to the ‘formal negotiations’ or ‘technical discussions’ that were ruled out by the Canadian High Commissioner."

UK-Canada free-trade agreement talks were suspended this year over disagreements on food standards for beef and cheese.

The two nations have been negotiating for the last two years after Britain left the EU, with trade continuing largely under the deal originally brokered when the UK was a member of the bloc and with a time-limited side agreement in place protecting cheese and cars from higher tariffs.

During the conference, the UK will also push for the extension of the WTO’s e-commerce moratorium, a global agreement that avoids taxes on online transactions, the Department for Business and Trade said.

“From preventing digital products like emails being taxed, to ensuring countries can challenge unfair trading practices, the UK joins this conference with a clear mission: to be the world’s leading voice for free trade," Mr Hands said.

Minister for Development Andrew Mitchell said the UK would also be “pushing robustly” for outcomes at the summit that support developing countries to reap benefits of free trade and global investment.

Updated: February 26, 2024, 5:58 AM