LONDON: A new report claims Britain's membership of the European Union has produced no trade advantages and its exports to non-EU countries have increased at a faster rate.
A detailed analysis of UK exports since 1960 by Civitas, a civil society think-tank, says Britain's trade with other EU nations accounts for no more of its total trade than it did on joining the European Economic Community in 1973.
Meanwhile, UK exports to non-EU nations Iceland, Norway and Switzerland have increased "enormously" over the same period according to the study.
"While the share of UK exports to fellow EU members has been virtually stable, the share going to non-members in Europe has risen steadily, leading one to suspect that both insider advantages and outsider disadvantages are imaginary," says report author Michael Burrage.
"Thus far, the Single Market has not enabled UK exports of goods or services to other members to grow at a faster rate than those of non-member exporters, nor at a faster rate than UK exports to non-member markets. It has been an era of decline for UK exporters, relative to both non-members in the same market, and to UK exports to other markets."
In an examination of OECD data, Burrage says the UK ranks only 28th in a list of the world's 35 fastest-growing exporters to the other 11 founding members of the Single Market, and that UK exports to the other 11 Single Market founders grew by 192 percent during the 20 years of the Common Market and only 80 percent in the following 19 years.
He adds there is no evidence that EU leverage has helped secure more free trade agreements (FTAs): There were 25 EU FTAs in force in 2012 and the Swiss had independently negotiated 26 - 13 of which came into force before those of the EU, and three in the same year. At the same time, he says the proportion of UK goods exported to Iceland, Norway and Switzerland has doubled from 5.1 percent in 1973 to 10.7 percent in 2012 while services exports have risen from 6.1 percent to 20.2 percent in the same period.
"To accept the idea that, despite the absence of prima facie evidence of insider advantages, the UK exporters have nonetheless benefited from them obliges one to accept some scarcely credible, counter-factual propositions," says Burrage.
According to the Civitas report the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – headed by secretary of state Vince Cable - has claimed that the UK and other EU countries trade twice as much with each other as they would do in the absence of the Single Market. Burrage agues that such claims are "empty rhetoric" and those who repeat them are misleading themselves and others about its merits.
"Unfortunately, constant repetition of them over recent years has already done immense harm, since they have discouraged close investigation, measurement and analysis of the UK experience within the Single Market. We have, therefore, still not begun to understand what has gone wrong and how it might be fixed," he adds.