Davos is now a town which, in political circles, is synonymous with the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of the global political elites for a series of discussions and panels about the future of the global economy.
This year’s summit saw plenty of speculation over the shape of a Trump Presidency in economic terms, and a staunch defence of globalisation by Chinese President Xi Jinping, but there can be little doubt that Theresa May was Belle of the ball.
Coming to Davos fresh off announcing Britain’s EU exit plan, May was a headliner, and of particular interest given she essentially admitted that if the UK doesn’t get a deal it likes from the EU it will walk away and, presumably, out into the world. The UK’s International Trade Secretary, the formerly disgraced Dr Liam Fox, has already boasted of a ‘trade crusade’, making informal overtures across the globe, but who are going to be Britain’s new global trade allies if UK PLC. leaves the European market behind?
Obvious trade allies come from the Anglosphere, most notably the United States. President Trump has committed to getting a trade deal with the UK done quickly, but his own Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross emphasised re-working the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as the administration’s key priority. Given that re-negotiating NAFTA would be more aligned with President Trump’s promises on returning jobs to the US, those in Camp Brexit should not rely too much on the erratic new Commander-in-Chief.
A NAFTA re-negotiation would also mean that Canada, another potential new trade partner, may be otherwise engaged. Bill Morneau, the Canadian Finance Minister, has also suggested that the UK will get a trade deal, but comes behind the US, China and the EU in Ottawa’s priorities. More open to quick cooperation with the UK are Australia and New Zealand, both nations renowned globally for their open attitudes to free trade. Australian Finance Minister, Senator Mathias Cormann, has indicated that a deal could be done ‘very quickly’, while New Zealand PM Bill English’s remarks while in London indicate that the nation of the silver fern could be the first nation Britain secures a trade deal with.
Away from English speaking nations, the Cameron government had worked to foster relations with Beijing, but Chinese protectionism may foreclose Britain getting an exceptional deal. However, since July both May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have visited China’s regional economic rival India in a bid to secure their support. The issue here, and with any Free Trade negotiation, is that Dehli is angry at new British restrictions on Indian visas, and any free trade deal would likely have to include increased access to migration for Indians.
This migration issue could become a real burden for May’s government. Having ended free movement for EU citizens, there may now have to be an increase in arrivals from further afield to compensate for Britain’s new nimble trading economy. Those who voted Leave in protest at the number of migrants from the continent might be in for a nasty shock if Westminster prioritises economy over immigration.