U.K. Appoints First Ever Trade Commissioner for U.S., Canada

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By Ali Qassim

The U.K. has ramped up its plans to become an independent trading nation with an eye on a potential bilateral trade deal with the U.S.

The government has appointed a trade commissioner for North America. Antony Phillipson will become the U.K.’s first trade envoy with specific responsibility for the U.S. and Canada in the newly created role, the U.K. government announced Feb. 5.

The appointment, one of several across key global markets, is part of a “new way of doing things,” International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said, because the U.K. wants to control its own trade policy once it leaves the European Union at the end of March 2019. Since it joined the trade bloc in 1973, trade negotiations have been handled by the EU from Brussels, not from the London-based parliament of Westminster.

The creation of trade commissioners is also the latest step in the U.K.’s efforts to forge trading autonomy since Prime Minister Theresa May created the International Trade Department in 2016. Phillipson, along with the other trade commissioners, “will have more autonomy to do what works best in their region to improve trade with key markets of the future” Fox said.

As a current member of the EU, the U.K. is allowed to start only exploratory talks with third countries like the U.S. The British government Feb. 5 highlighted its plans to leave both the EU’s Common Single Market and the Customs Unions, two requisites for the U.K. to develop future bilateral trade deals.

Bilateral Trade Deal?

Phillipson will be based in New York and will work under Fox to develop the U.K.’s trade with the U.S. and Canada, “two of the U.K.’s most important trading partners,” Phillipson said in a statement.

Fox plans to meet with Phillipson in a U.S. visit slated for March, the U.K. government said, although no firm date has been set.

The U.S. is the U.K.'s single largest trading partner and biggest export market, accounting for 14.5 percent of all U.K. trade and more than 18 percent of British exports in 2016, the Department for International Trade said in the Feb. 5 statement.

Phillipson will unveil more details of his new role in a Feb. 7 media briefing to support the report launch of the British Embassy’s report —Across the Pond--British Trade and Investment Success Stories in the U.S.

In his role as consul general in New York, Phillipson has been leading U.K. government’s efforts to promote U.K. economic, commercial, political and consular interests in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Fairfield County, Conn.

Phillipson previously served as director of trade and partnerships in the U.K. government’s Department for Exiting the European Union,

U.K. Parliamentary Inquiry

In a separate but closely related development, a U.K. cross-party committee of 11 members of parliament this week are taking their ongoing inquiry into a possible transatlantic trade deal to North America, a spokesman for the International Trade Committee told Bloomberg Law in a Feb. 5 email.

The committee’s tour includes visit to Ottawa, Detroit and Washington. The International Trade Committee will visit the U.S. capital on Feb. 6-8, the spokesman said.

On their return to the U.K., the committee will hold more hearings in parliament before a planned report with recommendations to the government by an unspecified date in the spring, he said.

Commissioners in China, South Asia

The U.K. announced the first of its nine new trade commissioners last week with the appointment of Richard Burn as trade commissioner for China during May’s official visit, the government said in a Feb. 2 announcement.

Burn is the Department of International Trade’s director general in China. The department Feb. 5 also appointed Mumbai Deputy High Commissioner Crispin Simon the trade commissioner for South Asia.

The government also plans to announce trade commissioners for Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Network, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ali Qassim in London s at correspondents@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bloomberglaw.com

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