After Brexit, let's take the lead in free trade with the developing world

I have a piece at the Times's Red Box that argues that, after Brexit, the UK should grant full tariff- and quota-free access to its markets to many of the world's poorest countries:

The EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) protocol came into effect in 2001 and applies to the world’s least developed countries as defined by the United Nations. Along with Haiti and a few Asian countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia, most of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, like Ethiopia and Mozambique. All imports except armaments from these countries face zero tariffs (taxes on imports) and quotas (rules limiting the number of items that can be brought in in a particular year). In 2014 goods from these countries accounted for €17bn worth of imports to the EU.

Countries that are still very poor but slightly more developed, like Vietnam, Kenya and Nigeria, face the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) regime, which give preferential access to European markets compared to that of a normal “most favoured nation”. For better market access, countries must implement 27 international conventions on things like human rights, environmental protection and good governance.

The GSP is better than nothing but still holds back trade and growth. Unprocessed coffee bean imports from Kenya are not taxed, but roasted beans are at a 2.6 per cent rate. So are cut flowers and vegetables like broccoli and beans, which can face tariffs of up to 10.1 per cent. Rules like this inhibit the development of supply chains and stop value from accruing in the producing countries. And they make British consumers worse off through higher prices.

The British government has already said that it wants to continue giving preferential access to developing countries after it leaves the customs union. This is good, but we can do better. If we accept the principle that free trade makes both parties better off, it should aim to extend the zero-tariff and -quota Everything But Arms protocol to many more countries, along with less strict enforcement of rules of origin customs checks.

Read the whole thing.