“If we quit the EU, we could go global”: Really?

The Leave campaign claims that we could get better trade deals if we negotiated them separately as Britain. But it’s not as easy as that.

The first thing we’d have to do if we left the European Union would indeed be to negotiate new trade deals with countries across the world, to replace the ones we currently have via the EU. These deals would have to be better than what we have now, to make up for loss of trade with the EU itself, which is by far our largest export market.

But the problem is that the chances are small that we’d be able to secure a better deal than we already have, negotiating with China, Japan, the US and others just as Britain alone. We are an important market for those countries, but nowhere near as significant as the EU as a whole — the world’s largest market.

Take, for example, South Korea. The EU negotiated a trade agreement with South Korea five years ago. Since then, British exports to South Korea there have more than doubled. But how did we manage to persuade the Koreans to open their market to our exporters? It was in exchange for opening the European market to their products — where they were primarily interested in the German market.

That is what it means to have more clout negotiating as part of the world’s largest market. A country like South Korea is unlikely to offer equally generous access to Britain — what’s in it for them?

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