On 24 February, the TRO hosted a lunch talk titled ‘Asia and the UK: Forging a New Partnership after Brexit.’ Representative Lin chaired the event, while Lord Faulkner of Worcester, the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Taiwan, and Simon Long, the Finance and Economics Editor of The Economist participated as guest speakers. Other attendees included diplomats from across the London diplomatic corps, a member of the House of Lords, British government officials, academics, and journalists.
Initiating the discussion, Representative Lin said the UK’s vote to leave the EU was among the most significant political and economic events of recent times, and that Asian countries are closely watching how the UK reshapes its global partnerships. Addressing Asia’s importance to the UK, he cited a recent speech by the UK’s Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Alok Sharma, who said the UK intends to reinvigorate existing relationships with Asia, and reach out to new Asian partners after Brexit.
Lord Faulkner reiterated the magnitude of the Brexit vote, and stressed Britain’s choice was ‘not a decision to turn inward’, but ‘to become an even more global power with the freedom to negotiate trade agreements beyond Europe.’ He stated the UK faces 2017 ‘with great confidence and continues to demonstrate its fundamental strengths’, citing its strong economic performance in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.
The Labour parliamentarian also reflected on the major developments in UK-Taiwan ties since he became Trade Envoy to Taiwan in January 2016, including the Taiwan-UK renewable energy conference, the Taiwan-UK bilateral trade talks, and the Taiwan-UK Railway Forum. He said such examples demonstrate the importance of Taiwan to the UK, which is eager to expand its partnership with Taiwan to ‘generate real and long term economic benefits for both markets’ after it leaves the EU.
Simon Long took a more critical stance, stating ‘the UK would become less important for Asia’ while ‘Asia becomes more important for Britain’. While conceding that Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are not a prerequisite to trade, Mr Long cast doubt on the UK’s chances of striking meaningful FTAs with Asia’s largest markets, particularly FTAs inclusive of services. Despite this, Mr Long said New Zealand is evidence that countries can ‘survive and thrive’ after a major shock to their trading patterns, referring to its loss of trade after the UK joined the European Economic Community.
Overall, Mr Long suggested the most significant change to the UK’s post-Brexit partnership with Asia was likely to be a change of mindset on behalf of British exporters, who will adopt ‘a more global focus’. He concluded that Brexit’s economic impact on Asia may be negligible, but that the UK is likely to be ‘less attractive as a European base’ to Asian companies, which coupled with increased uncertainty over trade arrangements with the EU, might have a negative impact on inward investment.
The discussion was followed by a Q&A session, in which attendees enthusiastically shared their views on Brexit and its implications for Asia.