When Theresa May goes to Washington this week, she will eat food, drink wine, and use goods approved by American regulators. To have free trade, we just need to make it legal to buy those same, federally approved products in the UK – via mutual standards recognition.
Britain has spent so long in the single market, many pundits have come to believe that international trade is impossible without uniform standards. But that’s simply not true.
We don’t need to have the same rules in order to buy each other’s goods. People in different countries have managed to trade for millennia without a common regulatory system.
Instead of imposing new standards – like TTIP – our deal with the US will likely be based on mutual standards recognition. That means whatever can legally be bought and sold in the US we will be able to buy and sell in the UK – and vice versa.
Mutual standards recognition allows a trade deal to be done quickly – within months, as Trump’s team has suggested.
Moreover, it promotes systems competition. It incentivises regulators in both countries to work in consumers’ interests – because consumers will choose which regulator’s products to buy.
Of course, both sides will want some caveats. From our end, that might have to do with chemicals in food. From theirs, it could be drug patents.
But the basic point is that, when dealing with a developed country with similar standards, we don’t need new rules to permit trade – or a new layer of officialdom to make them.
For Britain, permissions-based trade is soon to become a thing of the past. We’re about to rediscover what free trade means.