UK Conservatives ponder global trade reboot

LONDON — Post-Brexit Britain must soon decide how active to be in shaping global trade — and it won’t be short of advice about how to embrace its new role outside the European Union.

Beyond rhetoric about support for a “rules-based” trade system and the virtues of being a “free-trading nation,” the U.K. government is yet to show its hand in a meaningful way.

Most agree something should be done to reset the floundering ship of global trade. U.S. President Donald Trump’s combative approach and imposition of tariffs, both on allies and adversaries, has reduced confidence in the former beacon nation for free trade. The World Trade Organization is in the doldrums with its dispute body strangled by the Trump regime and amid accusations it has failed to crack down on unfair trading practices from China. 

Critics complain about China’s alleged intellectual property theft, abusive infrastructure contracts with developing nations and state subsidized dumping. Human rights concerns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, growing tensions with neighboring states and increasing concerns about cyber security are adding to the gnashing of teeth. China denies all claims against it, and insists it has “stood by the multilateral trading system through thick and thin.”

Many in Boris Johnson’s Conservative party argue the current malaise in world trade creates an opportunity for the U.K. to play a leadership role, though others doubt Britain has the clout — or the international reputation — to pull it off.

Its bid for the top job at the World Trade Organization showed ambition — even if few thought former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox stood a chance. Despite being knocked out of the race, the U.K. continues to insist it will be an active participant on the trade stage.

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