New poll shows that 86% of MPs want Parliament to have a role in approving new trade deals
Modern trade deals are too important to be done behind closed doors - and it's time for parliament to step up, says Helen Dennis of Fairtrade Foundation, and Sophie Hardefeldt of the Trade Justice Movement.
In this week’s excitement over the Government’s ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario-planning, one key element of the so-called ‘Project After’ plan seems to have passed commentators by – the actual process by which the UK’s new independent trade policy will be formulated and agreed. The Government’s new Trade White Paper, talks about trade that is ‘transparent and inclusive’, but falls short of making any concrete proposals on how this might be achieved.
Under current rules, the Government can develop and ratify trade agreements with minimal input and scrutiny. There are no transparency requirements, no right of input for the public, and Parliament is not even guaranteed an affirmative vote prior to ratification.
In polling released today, conducted by Dod’s Research for the Fairtrade Foundation and the Trade Justice Movement, 86% of MPs surveyed agreed that Parliament should have a role in the scrutiny and approval of new trade and investment deals. This overwhelming backing for a more transparent and accountable approach to trade demonstrates that Parliamentarians across the political spectrum support efforts to deepen democracy in post-Brexit UK. Yet, without reform, the UK Parliament and public may find itself with less, rather than more, control over UK trade policy.
In the EU, elected MEPs get a vote on whether to accept or reject new EU trade deals. Congress also has an ‘up or down vote’ on US trade deals. Unless the legislation is amended, UK MPs will have no such powers. This means that were the UK to negotiate a trade deal with the US, a Representative from Birmingham Alabama would be able to advocate for the interests of their constituents, whereas an MP from Birmingham UK would not.
A democratic process for developing trade policy is needed to build public confidence in trade agreements. It is also necessary if we are to achieve trade justice for producers in the world’s poorest countries and meet the Global Goals. 74% of MPs agree that poverty reduction in developing countries should be a high priority as we negotiate new UK trade agreements. 85% think that future trade and investment agreements must strengthen, not undermine, human rights, labour rights and environmental protection in developing countries. But without any formal role in the decision-making process, opportunities for MPs to make these arguments will be few and far between.
Without parliamentary debate, how will decisions be made about the desirability and content of any future trade agreements with developing countries? How will the impact of trade deals on human rights and labour rights be judged and by whom? And how will we assess the impact on poorer economies of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with big players such as Australia and the United States? Any reduction in tariffs that emerge from these deals – for example on sugar or bananas – are bound to have an impact on poorer countries with high dependency on the UK for export.
Modern trade deals are too important to be done behind closed doors. At a minimum, the forthcoming Trade Bill should clarify and strengthen the role of parliamentarians in future trade deals, granting MPs and Peers an affirmative role in the scrutiny and approval of all trade agreements, including the opportunity to fully debate any potential impacts on developing countries.
The Trade White Paper outlines the government’s commitment to transparent and inclusive trade policy. The Trade Bill must now translate this commitment into law.