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(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Theresa May’s cut-and-paste plans for trade deals after Brexit will begin with the Swiss and South Koreans because of how much they contribute to the U.K. economy.
The Department for International Trade doesn’t have the capacity to negotiate 40 new free-trade agreements at once, so it’s focusing on rolling over deals it benefits from as a European Union member and on the ones that carry the most trade, according to a senior official at the department who declined to be identified discussing policy that hasn’t been publicly announced.
When May first floated the idea last week in Japan, Liberal Democrat Party Leader Vince Cable said she should leave Trade Secretary Liam Fox “in a room with a photocopier.” The plan may also not sit well with Brexit supporters who said during the 2016 referendum campaign that Britain would be able to strike bespoke deals, not mere replicas.
“The promise of new trade deals with countries around the world is starting to look like yet another broken Brexit promise,” said Darren Jones, an opposition Labour Party lawmaker. “Given we have not negotiated a single trade deal for 40 years, it’s hardly surprising that the government lacks the capacity to take on 50 at a time.”
Jones urged ministers to focus instead on ensuring trade with the EU, which buys about 44 percent of U.K. exports and accounts for more than half of imports, remains free.
The new agreements would kick in after Britain departs the EU in March 2019 and terms could be reviewed at a later date, according to the official.
Aside from free trade with its 27 fellow EU members, Britain benefits from more than 40 trade agreements with 70 other nations, according to the EU. In addition, the bloc is brokering a deal with Japan and has finalized agreements with countries including Canada.
--With assistance from Andrew Atkinson
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