U.K. Budgets Millions to Train Inexperienced Trade Negotiators Ahead of Brexit

The U.K. government is budgeting millions of pounds to train staff to negotiate trade deals, to compensate for a lack of expertise as the country prepares for Brexit.

Until now, Britain has relied on the European Union to negotiate its trade deals, because they’re managed centrally. With the U.K. due to leave the bloc in March 2019, it’s had to move fast, creating a new Department for International Trade, which as of January employed some 2,700 staff, many with little experience of negotiating trade deals.

As such, the department is budgeting 2.5 million pounds ($3.3 million dollars) for the next year to train existing staff, according to a written answer to Parliament by Trade Minister Mark Price, a member of the House of Lords. The department has also spent 1.2 million pounds on headhunting, he said in a separate written answer.

The need to recruit and train staff is clear: Brexit talks are already underway between the U.K. and Europe, though envoys haven’t yet moved onto discussing the future trade relationship. As well as brokering a new relationship with the EU, the Trade Department is seeking to forge new deals with countries from the U.S. to China. 

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In a further sign of turmoil, a job advert on the government’s civil service recruitment site calls for a “digital design lead” for a new body to deal with trade disputes which will be part of the department.

But the advert warns the role “will be operating in a changing and uncertain environment” and “delivering a fully functional and fit-for-purpose organisation by October 2018 is a huge challenge.” The advert suggests the U.K. has begun contingency planning in case the country leaves the EU in 2019 without a deal.

Two British officials told Bloomberg in January that the U.K. doesn’t have enough expert trade negotiators for talks on a sweeping new commerce agreement with the U.S. To illustrate the lack of homegrown talent, Britain in June named a former New Zealand diplomat, Crawford Falconer, to be the government’s chief trade negotiations adviser.

Price said over 200 staff in the department have already undertaken training in trade policy. A budget of 1.6 million pounds is available for training over the next year while the trade policy group has a further 900,000 pounds allocated for training “including but not limited to trade policy and negotiations.” Also 1.5 million pounds were budgeted for legal services.

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