COMMENT:

The uncertainty that naturally surrounds any shift the size of Brexit has been compounded by the war of words, interests and persuasion that continues to unfold.

For businesses, exporters, workers, investors and even for perceived bystanders on either side of the visceral, all-encompassing debate, more questions than answers have emerged – especially as the 'deal or no deal' question intensifies.

However, despite the clouds of confusion that will continue to form as lawmakers from all sides debate next steps, here are five ways the UK can thrive even without a Brexit deal.

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Get WTO tariff schedules certified

With the failure of the Doha round of trade negotiations nearly two decades ago, the WTO has essentially become a referee for global trade as well as the place where tariffs are determined for countries without preferential trading arrangements.

Mercifully as a result, the UK can revert to WTO rules as a first stop. All things considered, this isn't a bad place to start: the average WTO tariff is under 3 per cent.

There is one catch, however. To do so the UK must get the WTO secretary general to certify its tariff schedules for both goods and services. This is no small feat, particularly in light of the domestic policy changes also required.

But it must be done to keep tariffs at the level of nuisance instead of suffocation and to ensure non-tariff barriers don't stifle the services trade.

Negotiate priority agreements first

The UK does not need to go out and negotiate 50 bilateral trade agreements simultaneously. Trade negotiations are long, complex and can take years.

The CETA negotiations with Canada took nearly seven years to complete and the recent in-principle renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took over two years - and that wasn't starting from scratch.

Sending the signal you're in a rush is to negotiate from a position of weakness. The UK should not feel an urgency to engage in negotiations beyond its top priority markets, for now.

Beyond the immediate priority of its European trading partners, these include North America, Japan, South Korea and Turkey.

Reciprocally, these countries also want preferential trade with the UK.

With a stopgap of the WTO in place, there's no rush. Negotiate from a position of strength and take the time to do it right.

Be a services sector power house

While countries will always trade in goods, 21st century trade is increasingly focused on trade in services. This is especially true in the UK where services make up nearly 80 per cent of the domestic economy.

Financial, transport and manufacturing services are leading export sectors, while others such as healthcare, food and professional services continue to grow rapidly.

While lower-cost production jurisdictions long ago eroded the UK's export advantage in goods, exporting expertise is highly lucrative and is in demand worldwide.

Stay focused on competitiveness

One of the paradoxes of the late 20th and early 21st century global economy is that our closest political and military allies are also our fiercest economic competitors.

We compete for everything from investment to talent to contracts from other governments.

The stakes are high and it's often a zero-sum game. For example, in Canada, the previous federal government under Stephen Harper introduced a corporate tax reduction schedule that led to the combined federal-provincial rate falling from nearly 43 per cent in 2000, to 25 per cent in 2013 - a substantive 72 per cent.

This put Canada firmly in the global pack of countries actively lowering business taxes precisely to attract investment.

However, six years later, what was once a competitive advantage for Canada is now merely middle of the pack and threatening to be behind the OECD average.

The UK too has lowered taxes, reduced regulations and invested in skills training. The wisdom that can be gleaned from these trends is that all countries looking for an edge must recognise that remaining competitive is not a one-time act; it must be a constant focus of policy-makers.

Continue to stand tall in support of free and open trade

The trade winds that have fuelled globalisation, economic growth and job creation for more than a generation are dramatically shifting.

For decades countries - with few exceptions - knocked down trade barriers, pursued deregulation and privatisation policies across key industries and embraced economic integration and trade liberalisation.

Now though in some cases the orthodoxy of open borders propelled by globalisation is under threat.

The advent of Brexit and the Trump administration's protectionist, America First policies have called this presumption into question.

The short-term political appeal of protectionism is understandable but the long-term effects are untenable.

Former prime minister David Cameron said it best in his 2011 address to the Canadian Parliament: "By its nature a global crisis cannot be solved by countries acting alone. In a global economy, we need every country in the world to show the leadership to address its problems."

As the US-China trade war persists, the global economy needs countries to stand up for free trade like never before.

The UK has a unique opportunity to set a bold course as others retreat and to redefine the scope of leadership we have come to expect from global forces and influencers.

- Adam Taylor is a principal at Export Action Global, an Ottawa-based trade consultancy and was a senior adviser to Canada's former trade minister in the previous Conservative government.