Government Should End Secretive Trade Negotiations, say UK Parliamentarians

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament

The government should overhaul its secretive approach to post-Brexit trade negotiations, according to a new report.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Trade & Export Promotion, which is backed by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), suggests negotiations should be open to public scrutiny to build trust in future trade deals.

The recommendations in the Review of UK Trade Governance report include:

  • Expanding membership of the Board of Trade, Strategic Advisory Group and Trade Advisory Groups to include representatives from business, trade union, consumer, environmental, civil society, and academic groups
  • Reducing the imposition of NDAs on experts, which restrict consultation when developing advice
  • A statutory obligation to publish all documents related to international trade, with easy digital access
  • Parliament should be involved in all stages of trade negotiation, from the statutory right to debate draft mandates ahead of bilateral talks to ratifying deals in a timely manner
  • A law change obliging the government to publish all economic, environmental, and social impacts of a proposed agreement, including a clear statement on its net benefit to the country.

ICC UK secretary-general Chris Southworth said building trust in the trade system was vital to avoid a backlash over decisions on trade deals in areas such as the erosion of standards for workers, the environment, food, and health and safety. “The current system is too secretive,” he said, “with an over-zealous reliance on NDAs over pragmatism and common sense.

“There is a real risk that trade deals will be rushed through without any proper scrutiny. If agreements aren’t battle-tested, they could prove to be to the disadvantage of the UK as a whole. The Houses of Parliament must be involved at every stage of trade negotiations, and a wider range of experts given the freedom to offer proper advice.”

Lord Waverley, co-chair of the APPG on Trade and Export Promotion said the report reflected the consideration of evidence of written submission and oral discussions. “We now present an evidence-based set of recommendations that we encourage government to reflect upon as we define the new chapter in our trading history,” he said.

“The APPG for Trade & Export Promotion was founded on the principle of fostering greater dialogue between parliament, business, unions, consumers, academia, NGOs and civil society on all matters relating to trade.”

The first evidence session had delivered on this aspiration, bringing “the voice of prospects and prosperity to the heart of the national debate”.

The report was based on expert testimony from figures across business, consumer organisations, academia and civil society.

The APPG gathered evidence from organisations including Which?, the CBI, the TUC, the Scotch Whiskey Association, and GreenerUK.

Founded in September last year, the APPG for Trade & Export Promotion brings together parliamentarians from all parties, supported by other sectors. “We are working to promote an inclusive, sustainable approach to global trade involving all aspects of the trade agenda,” he said.

The APPG on Trade and Export Promotion will be holding further evidence sessions this year. More information is available at www.appgtrade.uk/events


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