Job advert reveals surprise plans for new trade authority

Britain plans to create a new trade authority within 14 months to take on some of the tasks currently fulfilled by the European Commission, the government has accidentally revealed in a job advertisement.

The Trade Remedies Organisation would handle complaints from UK companies about unfair trade practices from October 2018. The authority will be proposed in a trade bill to be presented to parliament next month, according to an advert for a mid-ranking post at the Department for International Trade.

Neither the details of the regulator nor the timing of the trade bill had been previously announced to parliament or the public.

The trade bill, which was included in the Queen’s Speech in June, will give the government legal authority to negotiate trade agreements with other countries.

Cabinet ministers have spent recent weeks publicly debating the type of transition arrangements that Britain will seek to negotiate for the period after its planned departure date from the EU in March 2019. Philip Hammond, chancellor, has said Britain will leave both the single market and the customs union, but implied that the country will remain in very similar arrangements.

Creating the Trade Remedies Organisation is a “huge challenge” for the UK, with a “challenging deadline” and a “changing and uncertain environment”, said the advert for a digital design lead, a Grade 7 civil service post paying up to £56,370 a year. The agency will initially have “around 130 staff”.

“We need to develop the UK’s approach to tackling allegations of unfair competition and build the capability and capacity to investigate complaints and enforce the rules. The UK Trade Remedies Organisation will be created as a new arm’s length body of the Department for International Trade to deliver this function,” said the ad, which was posted on the civil service jobs website.

“[W]e are currently working on the basis that this new organisation will need to be operational by October 2018 in order to take on new investigations from UK producers (which would otherwise be concluded by the EU authorities after the UK has left the EU),” the advert said.

Deadlines could change “as our detailed policy thinking develops, as the legislation moves through parliament, or as a result of the on-going negotiation with the EU”.

The international trade department, which was created by Theresa May shortly after she became prime minister in July 2016, has so far spent £1.15m on headhunters. The department has struggled to fill senior trade negotiator roles as a result of its unwillingness to negotiate on salary. Its running costs were £351m last year, and are budgeted to rise to £379m in 2017-18.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “This must be the first time a government has chosen to announce the setting up of an agency through a job advert.” He said the trade department should reveal the cost of the new organisation.

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