Global Britain: how to ‘level up’ when re-negotiating trade deals

The opportunity we have in front of us requires us to maintain ‘business as usual’, in terms of businesses allowing remote work to continue, where it is possible. The benefit will come in terms of international relations, and allowing the policy to make immigration laws more flexible. Capitalising on this opportunity may involve governments negotiating tax and immigration law through bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), or it could mean offering visa exemption for remote working, as we’ve seen from Barbados and other Caribbean countries during Covid. Here in the UK, having recently left the European Union, we have a unique opportunity to redesign the rules of the game when drawing up our FTAs, and could make radical changes in terms of allowing UK citizens to work overseas for a defined period of time. Likewise, we have an opportunity to entice immigrants into our country, where there is a need or shortage. Obviously not all work is mobile. Moreover, we know that through the Brexit debate, many working class British people objected to freedom of movement as it undercut their wages. To acknowledge the issue of those essential workers who are not mobile, government should offer tax breaks and incentives to those who cannot perform their work elsewhere, such as key workers, as they bring a positive externality to a society. There should also monitor closely of the number of workers allowed into the UK to fill essential roles, to not put pressure on wages. When considering UK citizens travelling to other countries, this could have a benefit on local economics in terms of investment and consumption, for example, where tourism is no longer a viable industry. To attract labour to a third country, the host country could consider waving taxes and accept increased spending, investment and growth in their country as a substitute; and the country of origin could retain income tax, and continue to tax income at source (this could be re-considered where employees move to another location for more than one year). The main policy change would be to include visa exemptions within FTAs, and stipulate that workers would not need a visa to work in the host country, and agree that tax would be deducted at source where the period overseas is less than one year. This could also benefit those who are currently expats in the UK, and could also benefit their home countries. For example, this policy could mean that a country such as the Philippines, which suffers from brain drain, may be able to retain its workers, who could continue to work for a London based company and receive their salary in the Philippines. This illustrates how this policy may bring increased income into countries in the Global South, without having to ‘Westernise’ or invite Multinational companies in to grow their economies through Foreign Direct Investment. In the long run, there would also be several other implications which could ‘level up’ the global financial economy, such as the impact on currency, and Purchasing Power Parity. It should be acknowledged that this change should not be seen as radical, as the majority of the ‘super rich’ are already mobile. This policy would simply extend that luxury to the middle classes, who are not currently able move freely, as immigration laws often are linked to wealth. An example of this is in the Cayman Islands, where you may obtain citizenship if you own property on the country. Therefore, this change could prove popular from a policy point of view, if the Government’s agenda is to ‘level up’. The policy should be attractive to employers who want to be able to attract top talent, from all over the world. From a government perspective, the policy allows for equality of opportunity in terms of the fact that we would no longer be limited and restricted to opportunities determined by accident of birth. Therefore, it would be important for governments and business to work together to mitigate the risks we currently see where workers work remotely overseas, related to privacy, data protection, legal and tax risk. Governments could offer tax incentives to businesses to allow such a policy for their employees. It could also ensure that employees are not impacted by double taxation or permanent establishment law, and businesses are made to ensure that employees continue to pay tax in the country of origin. From a societal point of view, by allowing some freedom of movement it would mean that people are brought closer to issues facing other countries, and more likely to do something about global issues. In terms of issues like climate change, which disproportionately affects the Global South, this can only be a positive thing. Often those with power, who live in the Global North, are not able to see the implications first hand. This policy would free up people in the Global North to relocate to other countries in the Global South, and even if it is just on a temporary basis for Winter, it may help to bring diversity of thought needed to solve some of the global problem we face. To incentivise third country governments to accept flexible immigration, some form of corporate social responsibility or ‘citizenship’ pro-bono work could be built into the agreement as a requirement, so that expats would bring a positive social benefit, as well as economic benefits with them. In summary, the opportunities we now have as a result of the pandemic should be retained, and opportunities seized by introducing subtle policy changes in terms of tax, trade and immigration law as we re-negotiate trade deals. The real opportunity now is to ensure that remote work continues – not just within the confines of your national borders, but absolutely anywhere. We have seen tech companies such as Spotify leading the way on this – Governments and business should incentivise others to follow, so that international remote work isn’t confined to a privileged few. Coronavirus has exposed the dramatic inequalities in society, now is the time to solve this.

 

 

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