Family & Education

Trade negotiators wanted to fill Brexit gap

Liam Fox at training scheme launch
Image caption Liam Fox wants to recruit a new generation of professional negotiators for trade talks

A new generation of UK trade negotiators is to be recruited in an open-access scheme launched by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.

It follows warnings of a shortage of experienced UK trade negotiators during the Brexit process.

The training scheme is open to applicants from all backgrounds and levels of qualifications - with the first recruits ready in two years.

The Liberal Democrats dismissed it as a "last-minute scramble".

Labour's Barry Gardiner said "only now is the secretary of state realising that the UK needs trained negotiation staff".

Trade talks

At a launch event at the Harris Westminster Sixth Form school in London, the international trade secretary said being a professional negotiator was a "career option that hasn't really existed for two generations" - as deal-making has been carried out by the European Union.

The training project, with an initial 12 places, is meant to begin filling the gap, to provide enough home-grown professional negotiators for trade talks for the Brexit process and beyond.

Image caption Chief trade negotiation adviser, Crawford Falconer (L), launched the recruitment drive with Liam Fox

Mr Fox rejected the suggestion that this recruitment drive should have happened earlier - saying his department has been expanding and building capacity.

He said the new recruits would learn the practical skills of international trade talks, including spending time abroad, and would be paid about £30,000 while training.

"Young people can actually see what global trade looks like, that it's not a cold negotiating room, it's how we get market access, how we are helping exporters to get into markets," said Mr Fox.

"There is no substitute for international experience."

Image caption A project at the London sixth form created a simulation of a trading negotiation

Mr Fox said he wanted to "broaden the base" of those seeing trade negotiations as a career, with no limits or qualifications required for anyone wanting to apply.

"I think the wider we cast the net the better," he said, launching a project separate from conventional graduate recruitment schemes.

Mr Fox said it was open to "as many of those youngsters who have the aptitude, the enthusiasm and who've got the intuition to make a success of it".

'Complicated business'

Two years ago the international trade secretary had claimed that negotiations for a free trade agreement with the European Union "should be one of the easiest in human history".

But he now describes trade negotiations as a "complicated business" - and says the recruits will be given the intensive training they need.

Image caption Recruits will get two years of training in trade talks, including an overseas posting

The department's chief trade negotiation adviser, Crawford Falconer, said he wanted to "demystify" the process of trade negotiations and "get rid of the jargon".

Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said it was "another case of too little, too late" and a "complete failure in office to prepare the UK for what happens next".

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on international trade, said those who might be hired as negotiators were being "set an impossible task".

He said that Mr Fox had "failed to secure the substantial post-Brexit trade deals he promised" - and the UK was at risk of missing out on the EU's trade agreements with Japan and Canada.

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