The Trade Justice Movement (TJM), a coalition of nearly 70 civil society organisations interested in fair trade and sustainable development, has submitted written evidence calling on the UK parliament’s Trade Bill Committee to amend the Trade Bill as it currently stands, in order to include a framework for scrutiny and accountability ahead of the UK’s trade negotiations post-Brexit.
Peru may be among the countries with which the UK seeks to negotiate a bilateral trade agreement once it withdraws from the European Union. Currently Peru (along with Colombia and Ecuador) has a free trade agreement with the EU which includes clauses relating to upholding human and labour rights as well as norms of democratic governance.
The Trade Bill was presented to parliament in November 2017 and is due to be considered by the committee this month. The main objective of the bill is to “make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements” or, as explained during the Queen’s speech, “to put in place a legislative framework to allow the UK to operate its own independent trade policy upon exit from the EU”.
According to the TJM, the bill currently lacks a democratic framework for parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. Further, “there is no role for Parliament in the decision on whom to negotiate with or the objectives and priorities for a negotiation”. A parliamentary vote is not required prior to signing any agreement, only at the ratification stage; by then all decisions are made and it is very difficult to overturn them.
The British government argues that this bill only applies to new agreements with countries with which an EU trade agreement already exists. It says that this means replacing the agreements will be an easy process, ‘like for like’. However, many experts, including the TJM, argue that there will be major changes (that go well beyond mere technicalities) that will in effect make them new trade deals, both in name and form.
The TJM is calling on a framework for scrutiny and transparency that includes the following points:
- a transparent procedure for scoping potential trade agreements involving an impact assessment of potential social, economic, human rights, environmental, labour and gender implications for the UK and third countries;
- public consultation on the potential trade impacts;
- parliamentary consent for the trade negotiations to begin;
- full transparency throughout, with all material made public unless there is a convincing reason against it;
- appointment of a parliamentary committee to scrutinise negotiations; and
- the establishment of a civil society body to monitor them.
The TJM also stresses the need for any future trade deal to be subject to the UK’s international obligations and to be made coherent with the principles of sustainable development.
Only with a system of scrutiny and transparency, the TJM concludes, will a future trade deal be “able to support efforts to build a decent life for all across the world, end inequality and restore the environment”.
While this is an attempt to summarise the TJM’s submission, please refer to “Securing Democracy in UK Trade Policy” for a more thorough expert analysis.