The UK government hailed an era of cheaper Australian wine and New Zealand kiwi fruit as free-trade agreements with the two Southern Hemisphere nations took effect on Wednesday.
UK Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said that the start of the first all-new trade deals that Britain has struck since it left the European Union marked “a historic moment”.
Economists, however, said the economic effect would be limited. Trade expert David Henig called the new deals “a bit of a nothingburger”.
The agreements remove tariffs on most goods, streamline some regulations and make it easier for Britons to work Down Under, and for Aussies and Kiwis to work in the UK.
Britain marked the occasion by sending the Australian and New Zealand governments care packages of products it hopes will get an export boost, including Welsh whiskey, English gin, leather bags from the Cambridge Satchel Co. and Beano, a kids' comic book.
The UK says the deals will boost bilateral trade by 53 per cent with Australia and 59 per cent with New Zealand, though the overall volumes are relatively modest: Australia accounts for 0.9 per cent of UK trade, and New Zealand for 0.2 per cent.
Henig, director of the UK Trade Policy Project at the European Centre for International Political Economy, said that the deals “could make bits and pieces of difference. For individual companies it can make a difference”.
But, he said, “the likeliest outcome is very little changes”.
Many economists say no amount of new trade deals will make up for the economic hit of leaving the EU, which before Brexit accounted for about half of all UK trade.
Britain's exit erected new trade barriers with the bloc, an economic behemoth of 27 countries and 500 million people.
Britain's independent Office for Budget Responsibility estimates Brexit knocked 4 per cent off UK gross domestic product. The new deals together are expected to bring an estimated boost to GDP of about 0.1 per cent by 2035.
Some former UK government officials also say the deals are skewed towards Australia and New Zealand. Ex-Environment Secretary George Eustice, who was a member of the government when the deal was struck, said last year that “the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return”.