One unsubstantiated claim that circulated prior to the EU referendum was that, post-Brexit, the UK would be able to negotiate many trade agreements quickly. However, such a view fails to grasp the complexity of negotiating trade agreements – a complex, time-consuming and delicate task.
For instance, we need to ask who will be making the decisions on the UK’s future trade agreements? Will it be the UK Government alone, or will Parliament also have a say? What – if any – key principles will underlie these negotiations to ensure that goods and services are safe? And will the safeguarding of human rights have any place in these deals (as happens under the EU’s GSP+ system), or will universal human rights be considered a barrier to trade?
Within the EU, the European Parliament has the power to approve or reject trade deals before they can enter into force. That means elected representatives from every Member State have a say on a proposed deal, and can vote it down if there are serious concerns.
However, the Government’s Trade Bill – if it goes through Parliament without significant changes – gives ministers unprecedented powers to create and edit trade deals without parliamentary scrutiny. This would mean, for example, that Boris Johnson and Donald Trump could agree a new trade deal behind closed doors without any democratic accountability.
This is in stark contrast to the EU’s approach, whereby the European Parliament has the power to approve or reject trade agreements before they can enter into force. That means elected representatives from every Member State have a say on a proposed deal.
The failed the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement between the EU and the US highlighted just how damaging such a trade agreement could be. For instance, any UK-US trade deal would likely include controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions. These tribunals contain extra-judicial mechanisms which have been shown to shift power in favour of large corporations, and away from the public interest. Such an agreement could also include anything from antibiotic and hormone-impregnated meat, to US entry into the NHS and fracking in our countryside.
These are just a few issues that negotiators need to address – and that’s before they actually get stuck into the nitty-gritty of tariffs on specific goods and services.
In January 2017 I compiled a publication UK Trade after the Brexit vote, which brings together perspectives on this issue from elected Greens, academics, campaigners and trade unions – from the UK, EU and further afield. Read or download the publication here.