At this time of year, a surfeit of mulled wine brings on a bad attack of ‘Torschlusspanik’. Europeans really understand the waves of remorse that hit with a hangover. What the Germans call ‘door-shutting anxiety’ is a typical end-of-the-year feeling. We are shutting the door on 2016 and have to face up to the fact that some doors are closed forever. I have just shut the door on my sweet children singing Christmas carols around the piano. They are now sulky and uninterested in dull family events. It is heart-breaking for me, but my friends have told me to grow up and get a life of my own.
Are the EU negotiation team also suffering from ‘Torschlusspanik? Apparently it is going to take ten years for them to organise trade deals with Europe. Honestly, they need common sense in the trade negotiation teams. The simplest solution would be to take the Canadian/Europe deal and with a careful use of the ‘find and replace’ key on Microsoft Office Word package change the word Canada into United Kingdom. There is not free movement of people between Canada and Europe and large sums of cash are not changing hands, so it is probably not too bad a deal. Perhaps someone in Scotland could read it through over their Christmas break and check that the Scots will be happy with it? We could sign it in March when we close the door on the EU with Article 50.
Alternatively, maybe it is time for some radical thinking? Do we really need trade deals with all 27 EU countries? Perhaps we should just do deals with the top three (Germany, France, and Italy) and let the rest sort themselves out.
Why is the Government involved in trade? Does anyone really believe that without Peter Mandelson as Trade Commissioner for Europe from 2004 to 2008, we would not have sold anything for four years? When people, with ready money, want to buy goods, they usually find a way. As an example, let me describe the small business I had selling baby products into China. The Chinese have masses of trade regulations… for example they don’t allow imports of skin care products unless they have been tested on animals. So no cruelty-free products for Chinese babies. I don’t speak a word of Chinese, but it is not difficult to find out what is allowed and what is not. I can assure you that there are thousands (no… hundreds of thousands…no millions…) of Chinese mums who are desperate to get their hands on British- made baby products.
If there is trade to be had, ordinary people will buy and sell. We are still a nation of shop-keepers. But now, we can open our shop online and sell product anywhere in the world. It is perfectly right that individual governments should make regulations to protect their citizens – such as the Chinese decision that all skin care products must be tested on animals first – and then it is up to the individuals to create a market for the products they want to sell.
Broadband has made trade borderless. You can sell what you like from your sitting room. The door to trade can be shut but the wire runs out of your office and into the office where a buyer wants your product. Perhaps you are selling something with a complicated design? Your buyers’ 3D printer will create the product in their own office using your digital description. It is not held up by customs or by trade regulations.
So, what are we going to do about the door-shutting anxiety that has hit our trade negotiations? Luckily, anxiety and panic are easily treatable. A psychotherapist would tell you that it helps to be the person who closes the door, rather than the one who wants it to stay open. So it would make sense to check that our trade negotiators are all people who want to leave the EU. For the others a psychotherapist would also offer a lengthy talking cure.
I would settle for another glass of mulled wine.