In publishing its NAFTA objectives last week, the Trump administration finally set the stage for a renegotiation after months of delay in Washington. The text of the announcement, which provides some sense of what a Trump-style NAFTA might look like, invites several observations.
As part of its long-awaited clean air plan, the UK government today announced its intention to ban conventional petrol and diesel engines in new cars and vans by 2040. Arguably, they need not have bothered. Many analysts now predict that, in terms of total cost of ownership, electric vehicles (EVs) will be the most affordable on the market by the early to mid-2020s. In that sense, the announcement fits with the UK government’s commitment to exit coal-fired power generation by 2025; while neither is as important as they first appear, both are undoubtedly landmark decisions.
Today’s summer recess in Westminster marks the end of a chaotic and tumultuous parliamentary session, which has concluded in a hamstrung government and a lame-duck Prime Minister. The next session is likely to be as unpredictable, with a series of legislative compromises, and Brexit taking up the majority of Parliamentary airtime. But what exactly can we expect from the second year of May?
The UK debate about tuition fees for university students can be seen as a triangulation of three sets of costs – private (to the graduate), public (to the taxpayer) and political (to the policymaker). The allocation of cost between the three actors has always been uneasy, and when the tension becomes unsustainable, change follows. The balance is once again shifting – the political cost of the status quo balance between public and private is growing quickly. If it becomes unbearable for policymakers, the rebalancing of cost back towards the state from the individual is the most likely outcome.
Unless you’re fond of ambling, it’s the choice of the destination that usually determines the path you take. The Brexit negotiation is no stroll in the park, but it now looks like one of those cases where it is the path that will determine where we end up.
Speaking before the European Economic and Social Committee this week, European Commission Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier painted a black picture of a post-Brexit world in which the UK failed to come to terms with the EU. A return to WTO rules for trade between the two markets; high customs duties, burdensome controls and higher transport costs. He insisted that even if a deal is reached, “frictionless trade” is unachievable.
The EU and Japan this week announced a political agreement on an FTA between the two sides after four years of negotiating. This is certainly big news in the generally calm waters of global trade negotiations. An agreement between the EU and Japan would create the prospect of the largest free trade zone in the world by GDP - the EU and Japan together account for more than a quarter of global GDP. But this deal had seemed rather becalmed a year ago. So, what is the significance of the ‘political’ in the ‘agreement’?
The setting before Parliament of the UK government’s legislative agenda for the two years leading up to the expected exit from the EU, has provided a further opportunity for ‘soft’ Brexiters in the UK to rekindle a debate about how detached from the EU the UK should aim to be. After the UK election, my colleague Jade Rickman and I examined the renewed debate over the possibility of customs union between the UK and the EU. Last week, a group of UK opposition MPs tabled an amendment calling for the UK to remain in “the EU single market” and “the customs union”. This would certainly be a very soft Brexit indeed.
Tax rises are now back in the centre ground of the UK economic discourse, in a way they have not been for at least a decade. This shift should put businesses and investors on notice - the era in which they could safely assume an ever-friendlier approach to taxation may be at an end.
The question of UK membership of NAFTA seems to be doing the rounds again. This is not entirely surprising. Both Australian and Canadian trade officials – including Ottawa’s former chief NAFTA negotiator - have recently called for the UK to join existing trading blocks, such as NAFTA, as an easy fix to potential Brexit-related disruptions to UK trade and production. The idea in itself is not new – back in the early 1990s, some members of Congress in the US hoped to convince London to swap the EU for NAFTA. But, with Article 50 negotiations now under way, there are some in London and Washington who would like to see it seriously considered.