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Delivering a transparent and inclusive UK trade policy
Read International Trade Secretary, Dr Liam Fox’s oral statement to Parliament, creating a transparent and inclusive future trade policy.
The UK government is committed to an inclusive and transparent approach to trade negotiations. We recognise that transparency is fundamental to better outcomes.
As we have been developing our independent UK trade policy, Department of International Trade (DIT) has been consulting with stakeholders through both informal and formal mechanisms. These have included dialogues with the Secretary of State for International Trade, ministers and officials.
Since July 2017, we have hosted over 280 stakeholder meetings, roundtables and working groups. These events have taken place across the UK, with 7 regionally-focused groups hosted in conjunction with British Chambers of Commerce partners.
In addition, we have had many bilateral discussions with stakeholders. These good relationships with a wide range of stakeholders have built a solid foundation for future engagement. But this is just the beginning of what we need to do.
This document provides a high-level overview of the departments engagement approach. It includes mechanisms for how we will engage with business, civil society and consumers, which will allow us to access the technical knowledge and advice that we need, for ongoing policy formation, particularly in the pre-negotiations phase of future free trade agreements with trading partners beyond the EU.
The trade White Paper Preparing for our future UK trade policy set out our future trade policy principles and our intention to boost our trade relationships with old friends and new allies, expanding access to markets across the globe. This included a commitment to transparency and inclusiveness in our future trading arrangements.It asked for views on further engagement across several areas of trade policy to help develop our approach. Submissions were received across business and civil society from the following sources:
- representative organisations
- non-government organisations
We followed up with a series of roundtable events to discuss White Paper responses in more detail including reports and research we received in addition.
The responses made clear the need to move to a more formalised engagement structure so that stakeholders are clearer on when and how they can input into the process and how their information will be used. This is the first step towards a more formalised engagement structure which we expect to evolve over time.
An inclusive process
All voices are important, which is why the department is seeking to consult as widely as possible to ensure our new international trade agreements and future trade policy benefit the whole of the UK.
To ensure that our new agreements and our future trade policy work for the whole of the UK, it is my strongly held view that Parliament, the devolved administrations, local government, business, trade unions, civil society, and the public from every part of the UK must have the opportunity to engage and contribute.
There will be periods of more focused engagement around specific stages of the negotiations.
This will be delivered by:
- open public consultations in the pre-negotiation stage, to inform our overall approach and the development of our policy objectives
- creating the Strategic Trade Advisory Group, to seek expert insight and views on relevant trade policy matters
- use of thematic/sectoral groups of stakeholder experts, to contribute to our policy development at a detailed technical level
- a range of outreach events across the whole of the UK
An informed UK position
The department’s objective is to gather insight and ensure the UK position is well-informed. To deliver this, we will establish 3 formal structures.
A Strategic Trade Advisory Group
The Department for International Trade will create a Strategic Trade Advisory Group to seek informed advice, insight and views on any relevant trade policy matters.
The group, chaired by the Minister for Trade Policy along with a group member, will be composed of an initial 14 core members representing a diverse range of interests and expertise from business to trade unions, consumers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) amongst others. Its principal purpose will be for the government to engage with stakeholders on trade policy before and during the negotiation cycle, helping to shape our future trade policy and realise opportunities across all nations and regions of the UK through high level strategic discussion.
If you feel you meet the criteria then please complete the expression of interest and return it to: firstname.lastname@example.org by 17 August 2018.
Expressions of interest will be sifted against the criteria attached to the membership form. Once this has been completed, the membership of the group shall be published on gov.uk.
Thematic and sectoral working groups
The department is also informing our policy development through sector/thematic stakeholder groups, partnering with relevant departments where feasible or through new DIT groups.
These working level groups will facilitate expert technical policy exchanges on specific sector and thematic policy areas. Their objective is to enable the government to draw on external knowledge and experience to ensure that the UK’s trade policy is backed up by evidence at a detailed level and is able to deliver positive outcomes for the UK.
Membership of these working groups will vary according to the sector or policy area and may include stakeholders from consumer groups, business associations, trade unions or NGOs. The structure and membership of these working groups will evolve over time according to the needs of the UK’s trade negotiations. We will also seek to identify subject matter experts where relevant and may run focused consultations at particular points in negotiations. We will share more information as these groups develop.
As the UK government enters into negotiations with new international trading partners, Ministers and officials will undertake outreach events to engage with stakeholders across the whole of the UK. Each negotiation will be different, and the programme of events will reflect the most important issues for that negotiation.
Each event will be tailored to meet the needs of the specific stakeholder group being engaged. The events will provide information to each stakeholder group and give them the opportunity to set out their interests.
A transparent process
Transparency is fundamental to ensuring that future UK trade negotiations capture the needs and expectations of broad UK interests.
While different trade negotiations may require tailored approaches, we will continue to work to ensure that the process of negotiating and implementing new free trade agreements is transparent, while balancing the need to avoid undermining our negotiating position throughout the process.
We will set up a focused source of information through the creation of a website where relevant information will be shared. We will:
- publish an information pack to accompany each consultation, setting out the economic rationale for entering into trade agreements and the data on current UK trade with the partner country
- publish an outline approach to each negotiation - this will set its approach to negotiations and its assessment of the implications. It will be laid in Parliament and then published on gov.uk
A clear role for Parliament
The government is committed to providing Parliament with the ability to inform and scrutinise new trade agreements in a timely and appropriate manner.
We will ensure that Parliamentarians are given the opportunity to consider the level of ambition of the government’s approach to negotiations and the potential implications of any agreements. We will explore the correct process to do this, which could take the form of a general debate.
In addition, the government will keep both Houses updated on the progress of negotiations through statements and updates to the International Trade Committee as the negotiations progress. This will include timely analysis at appropriate points to support decision-making. Of course, as in any negotiation, a certain level of confidentiality will be necessary to help ensure the best outcome for the UK, and these updates will be given with that in mind.
At the end of a negotiation, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRaG) will continue to apply as it does to all treaties which are subject to ratification. Under CRaG, the government will lay before Parliament any treaties it intends to ratify alongside an explanatory memorandum which will summarise the content of each trade agreement.
And, consistent with past practice with any new international trade partners, the government will also, at the appropriate time, publish an impact assessment.
In order to implement a new trade agreement with a new partner, the government will bring forward a bespoke piece of primary legislation, when required, for each new future trade agreement that requires changes to legislation and where there are no existing powers. Parliament will therefore have the opportunity to scrutinise this new legislation in the normal way.
This government believes this process will strengthen Parliament’s ability to shape and scrutinise the government’s ambitious independent trade policy agenda and our free agreements with new partners around the world.
A UK-wide approach
To develop and deliver a UK trade policy that benefits business, workers and consumers across the whole of the UK we need to reflect the needs and individual circumstances of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We will work closely with the devolved administrations on an ongoing basis to deliver an approach that works for the whole of the UK. As part of this, we are conducting a series of collaborative policy roundtables with devolved administrations and key stakeholders in all parts of the country, which will draw on their knowledge and expertise, recognising their role in helping to deliver the objectives of our trade policy and future negotiations. We will ensure that the devolved administrations are able to inform the government’s approach to negotiations throughout the consultation period and, of course, with subsequent engagement throughout the entire negotiation process.
We will also engage more widely in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, holding meetings with a wide range of stakeholder groups.
The involvement of the English regions in this process is also of vital importance and who, from the North East to the South West make a huge contribution to our trading performance. They too will be fully involved.
Our engagement is intended to gather insight and ensure the UK position is well-informed, reflecting the interests of the whole of the UK. The government is committed to an inclusive and transparent trade policy. This will be shaped by usual constraints imposed by international negotiation processes. We will need to take care not to prejudice or publicly pre-empt the outcomes of live discussions. Our partner countries expect confidentiality and we must respect that.