A group of UK trade bodies, unions and NGOs have compiled a trade governance framework, which they hope will guide policymakers towards best practice when establishing new trade agreements after Brexit.
The framework is a set of guidelines aimed at increasing transparency and accountability within trade governance when the UK starts negotiating its own trade deals after it exits the EU. It is intended to be a “practical tool” for policymakers to ensure trade policy-making structures benefit all stakeholders. As such, it calls for meaningful public and private scrutiny – including consultation with businesses and communities – on international trade agreements going forward.
Entitled ‘A trade governance model that works for everyone’, the framework is backed by the British Chambers of Commerce, Confederation of British Industry, Federation of Small Business, Institute of Export and International Trade, ICC United Kingdom, Trade Justice Movement, Trades Union Congress (TUC), Unite the Union and 85 other groups.
Four principles underpin the framework: consensus-building, namely that all stakeholders be consulted at all stages of the process; transparency, which calls for all decision making to be evidence-based and information easily accessible; democratic oversight, the need for a parliamentary committee and a vote on all trade deals; and “net benefit for all”, which demands that deals be evaluated in terms of their broader socio-economic priorities.
“I think we have to acknowledge that too many people have not benefitted from trade, that the trade model hasn’t worked as well as it should,” Chris Southworth, ICC UK secretary general tells GTR, describing the system of consultation and engagement with the trade private sector in the UK as “ad hoc”. He explains that the democratic structure of EU trade under which the UK has operated “hasn’t been very good” at including local communities, NGOs and civil society.
The alliance posits the framework as a chance to open up information about trade deals under negotiation to more of the people affected by trade policy. Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC says: “Future trade deals must be negotiated in the open, and unions, business and civil society should be involved right from the start.”
Liz Cameron, director and chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) agrees, saying: “SCC believes that economic openness must be a fundamental pillar of government trade strategy, and that only through increasing business input into this strategy can we ensure that rules around high-level trade governance and transparency will help rather than hinder the traffic of goods and services.”
The group believes that with framework the UK has the opportunity to set “the gold standard” in how to conduct trade deals. “Importantly, no one in the world has got [the trade model] right, so this is a great opportunity for the UK to set new standards,” says Southworth.