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LONDON – Britain’s Liz Truss disagrees with her Cabinet colleague Priti Patel on whether a trade deal with New Zealand should allow more foreign workers to come to Britain.
The international trade secretary wants visa easements with New Zealand to be discussed in ongoing talks, but the Home Secretary is pushing back, according to several people in the government who spoke to POLITICO under on condition of anonymity.
The International Trade Department is to agree on a negotiating mandate with each department in Whitehall, but the Home Office has yet to approve the proposals – despite earlier hopes of a so-called “tentative deal” with the News. -Zeeland, who would pinpoint these details, could have been sealed this week.
The split of opinion in government comes as London and Wellington surpass their self-imposed end-August deadline for this draft deal, with access to agriculture and services remaining other key points of friction.
“The Home Office is always delicate,” said a cabinet minister. “It’s always a double check of visas. It was the same with Australia, but we finally came to the right place, and we will do it with New Zealand as well. “
Some observers believe Patel was made aware of visa deals with Australia under a proposed free trade deal, which included easements around a three-year working holiday visa.
An Home Office official said arrangements with Australia were ad hoc and a collective government agreement ruled out further immigration measures under free trade agreements. But the commercial department backed down, insisting there was no comprehensive approach and that each deal was made on a case-by-case basis with final approval from Downing Street.
Two people in a telephone interview this week with Amanda Brooks, managing director of trade negotiations, said she had confirmed immigration measures were being discussed with New Zealand.
Taking a tougher line on work visas would make signing trade deals trickier, as Britain would forgo a negotiation card. “It is politically very difficult to sign a free trade agreement that covers services unless you have some flexibility on the ability of people to provide those services in person,” said Peter Holmes, trade expert at the ‘University of Sussex.
He added that a hoped-for trade deal with India, for example, is unlikely to come to fruition if the government is too restrictive on visas, as better access to work in Britain is seen as a big price by Delhi. “The Indian government may well hold out until it gets something it considers really useful,” he said.
A senior DIT official said the Home Ministry’s priority was to control immigration, while theirs was to liberalize trade. Another senior official said it was normal for the government to be concerned about temporary movement measures in trade agreements affecting the overall approach to immigration, but for ministries to always resolve those differences.
The UK’s immigration rules are based on people earning points for being able to live and work in Britain – but some fear that further liberal measures in trade agreements will undermine this overall position.
Others argue that some liberalization is obvious. Matt Kilcoyne, deputy director of the right-wing think tank Adam Smith Institute and government adviser on trade, said there would be no justification for not allowing even youth mobility between the UK and New Zealand. Zealand.
Priti Patel should be asked why the Prime Minister was allowed to be rescued from the coronavirus by Jenny McGee, the New Zealand nurse, but others have refused such care due to the difficulty and cost of entry in the UK for a people who in many ways still see themselves as family ties to Britain, ”he said.
A spokesperson for the Commerce Department said: “Our negotiations encompass a wide range of issues, including trade in services and the temporary movement of highly skilled professionals, to provide new opportunities that boost jobs and growth for the British economy. ” The Home Office did not comment at the time of publication.
The visa debate at Whitehall comes as New Zealand and the UK continue to try to strike a tentative deal – a job made all the more difficult by the 11-hour time difference between the two countries.
“Seems like the hurdles they have to overcome are not trivial,” said a person familiar with the talks.
The question is how far the two sides will go in terms of market access. “The battle is between New Zealand accessing UK agricultural markets and us accessing their financial services,” the same person said.
New Zealand’s chief negotiator on the deal, Brad burgess – also the country’s ambassador to Ireland – has been in London since last week to try to define the final conditions. The two teams are in constant contact and regularly hold virtual negotiation sessions.
“We have a policy that says we will not set artificial deadlines,” said a senior UK Department of Commerce official.
“There is still work to be done to reach the right deal, but we continue to make progress towards this goal,” said a spokesperson for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “Our negotiators worked tirelessly to achieve this.”
As recently as last week, New Zealand Trade Minister Damian O’Connor said New Zealand was “still determined” to complete the deal by the end of August, and clarified that the final question “is to what extent, how quickly and in the long term” the UK is ready to adopt tariffs on meat and dairy products.
New Zealand aims to secure market access similar to that offered by the UK to Australia in June, and also appears reluctant to move on market access for UK services.
A businessman familiar with the state of the talks said the gaps between the UK government’s targets for the deal and UK business defensive red lines were helping to delay the deadlines.
“You can see it in the context of things like the turmoil over the Australia deal where I think nobody really expected the agricultural sector to play as big a role as it did at the expense of ‘other areas potentially,’ they said.
The tentative deal with Australia has been difficult to break due to the backlash by UK farmers against the decade-long zeroing provisions for tariffs and quotas on Australian agricultural products.
“You see it, again, through the New Zealand talks,” they added, where “things are not going very well because of the lag in expectations.”
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