The Government must set up a new Trade Remedies Authority to defend UK businesses against unfair trade practices such as dumping after Brexit.
But a probe by the Commons International Trade committee found “serious concerns” about whether it can even be set up at all. And it delivered a withering verdict on the preparation for setting up new trade defence measures by Trade Secretary Liam Fox, finding the resources given to the TRA were wholly inadequate.
MPs also said the delay of the Trade Bill until the autumn – revealed by The Sun last week – means the vital trade watchdog would have no legal basis until just weeks before our EU departure at best.
Experts told MPs they were sceptical the Government would be able to recruit and train staff to carry out the work needed by next March.
But the committee said a fully functioning TRA is "critical" for a robust regime that protects against unfair moves such as subsidies and dumping.
The report said: "Trade defence investigations are inherently complex, involving resource-intensive, information gathering exercises and massive calculations.
"Collecting and analysing the required data necessitates a large staff, with economic, legal, competition, financial analysis and language expertise.
"Witnesses were sceptical about whether the Government could resource and train staff to perform these investigations in less than 12 months."
The committee also raised concerns about the Government's proposals for how the TRA would be appointed.
MPs were told that the International Trade Secretary has a "significant" role in the selection process and that could lead to the body becoming "ideologically stacked".
They warned it is "easy to underestimate how contentious" trade defence may be and said the TRA board should be "robustly independent".
Whoever is chosen to chair the organisation should have to go before the committee for approval, it recommended.
Committee chairman Angus MacNeil said: "Developing an independent trade policy is an inherently complex exercise, whatever the circumstances.
"The need to establish new trading relationships must be balanced against the requirement for a robust trade defence regime, capable of protecting domestic industries against unfair trading practices.
"Establishing a world-class, independent trade remedies authority (TRA) should be high on the Government's trade to-do list. However, the task has been made even more complex by the Department for International Trade's familiar foe: time.
"With March 2019 fast approaching, we have identified serious concerns about whether the TRA can be established, appropriately resourced, and fully operational by the Government's self-imposed deadline."
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