Britain’s Labour Party would pursue fewer, higher quality trade deals

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Labour Party would pursue fewer, higher quality trade deals if it came to power, and give parliament stronger oversight, its trade policy chief said on Wednesday, criticising the government’s approach as “scattergun”.

Britain has pursued a range of trade deals since it left the European Union, clinching agreements with the likes of Australia and New Zealand, while talks with India this year have gathered momentum.

Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds said he would support a trade deal with India and that countries currently negotiating with Britain would find a “willing partner” in Labour because “stability matters”.

However, asked if nascent trade talks with the likes of Canada and Mexico would continue under a Labour government, he said “I don’t think you can find another example of a country negotiating so much simultaneously, and you have to wonder about the impact that has on the overall quality.”

“The specifics of finishing those deals depends on where they are, but I think focusing more on the quality of what we’re seeking to achieve in each of these negotiations is a far better objective than the kind of scattergun strategy we see today,” he said at an event in London.

The opposition Labour Party holds a lead in opinion polls of around 20 points ahead of an election expected next year, and business leaders have taken an increasing interest in what any new Labour government would do if it got into power.

Reynolds told representatives from banks, consultancies, and FTSE 100 companies that Labour would also give parliament a “proper role” in how trade deals are ratified, after lawmakers criticised the lack of oversight currently.

Outside of free trade agreements, he said Britain should also pursue standalone deals on areas like digital and critical minerals.

Reynolds also questioned a decision by the government to review how it screens foreign takeovers for national security concerns, powers that have been used several times to intervene in takeovers, particularly linked to China.

“Chinese investment simply cannot be treated in the same way we would some other countries,” he said, adding new foreign minister David Cameron had shown “incredible naivety” towards China when he was prime minister.

“The measures as they are now are sufficient, and to dilute them would be a worrying signal to send.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Toby Chopra)