Boris Johnson’s pledge to build a new ‘Royal Yacht’ in the UK may have hit a snag because of an agreement signed with the World Trade Organisation in 2020. According to various reports, the British government, unlike other major trading nations, forgot to omit civilian ships from a list of vessel builds that must be open to global competition as part of the WTO government procurement agreement (GPA).

In May Boris Johnson, prime minister of the UK, announced a £200m Royal Yacht project that was to be built in the UK and that would be used to promote UK trade around the globe. However, while the government announced its “intention” to build it in the UK as part of a yet to be announced far-reaching domestic shipbuilding project, this would apparently breach the WTO agreement signed in 2020.

When the GPA was signed, Liz Truss, the UK’s international trade secretary, commented: “Today’s announcement will provide British businesses with the certainty they need to continue bidding for £1.3 trillion worth of government procurement contracts overseas, which will ultimately help deliver the growth and jobs we need to recover from the economic challenges of coronavirus. It is another significant step towards re-establishing Britain as a major force in global trade and a truly independent trading nation.”

The Financial Times reported that the UK’s agreement with the WTO says “ships, boats and floating structures, except warships” must be open to international business. According to the publication, a number of other major nations made sure to remove ‘civil shipbuilding’ from the agreement leading.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow trade secretary, described the results as “yet more copper-bottomed, ocean-going incompetence from Boris Johnson and Lis Trus.” Adding that “they need to get themselves on solid legal ground before spending any more public fund on this project.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman has said that “the national flagship will be built in UK shipyards, creating jobs and driving a renaissance in the UK shipbuilding industry”.

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