The National Audit Office (NAO) has today published a briefing on the Department for International Trade (DIT)’s preparation for future trade negotiations. The publication is intended to assist Parliament in its understanding and scrutiny of government’s future trade deals.

Established in July 2016 in response to the UK’s decision to exit from the European Union, DIT promotes international trade and investment and champions free trade, with the aim of securing UK and global prosperity. Government’s negotiation of new trade deals could have long-lasting implications for UK citizens and significant sections of our economy, such as food and financial services.

The briefing describes the following:

  • The development of an overarching UK government trade policy. The NAO sets out the role of trade in the UK economy, government’s structure for developing policy and its high level approach, and the aspirations for its future relationship with the World Trade Organisation.
  • How DIT is opening up new and existing markets. This explains different government departments’ objectives on trade and how DIT works with government’s many international networks to help open up markets internationally.
  • How DIT is preparing to negotiate and implement Free Trade Agreements. The process by which DIT is agreeing a mandate and preparing to negotiate Free Trade Agreements is captured. Government’s oversight of negotiations, its approach to parliamentary ratification and its activities to implement Free Trade Agreements is also outlined.

Read the full report

Preparing for trade negotiations

Notes for editors

Key facts

£665 billion
Total UK imports in 2018. Top imported goods include cars (£33bn), medicines (£25bn) and clothing (£20bn).

£634 billion
Total UK exports in 2018, contributing around 30% to UK GDP.

of all food consumed in the UK is imported, of which around two-thirds is from the EU.

2018-19 budget for Trade Policy Group within Department for International Trade (DIT).

Approximate number of staff employed by DIT in its overseas network, working in 108 different countries.

Number of trade agreements the UK currently has with non-EU countries through its membership of the EU, representing 11% of UK trade, and which government is seeking to continue after EU exit.

The number of members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The number of WTO members that the UK currently trades on WTO terms for tariffs, including the US, China, Brazil and Australia. In 2018 around 30% of UK total trade was accounted for by these 27 WTO members.

The number of proposed trade agreements the DIT has already consulted on, covering the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.


  1. The NAO is continuing to offer its insight and expertise to help Parliament and government respond to and focus on the implementation issues relating to the UK’s exit from the European Union. In the last two years, the NAO has published around 20 reports on how government is preparing for EU Exit.
  2. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.
  3. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Sir Amyas Morse KCB, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 785 people. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services. Our work led to audited savings of £741 million in 2017.

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