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Scottish Government must have a guaranteed role in future trade negotiations post-Brexit

3 min read

Scottish Affairs Committee Chair Pete Wishart MP calls on the UK Government to make a cast-iron guarantee to involve the devolved administrations in all stages of negotiating post-Brexit trade deals, including having a seat at the negotiating table.

Scotland has a proud history as a trading nation. In 2017 total exports contributed £81.4 billion to the Scottish economy; equal to a third of Scotland’s GDP. This success is underpinned by Scotland’s reputation for quality epitomised by globally renowned brands such as Scotch Whisky and Scottish Salmon. Ensuring this success story continues once the UK leaves the EU is a central theme of my Committee’s report into Scotland, Trade and Brexit.

While the Government has committed to pursuing a UK-wide trade policy which reflects the needs and individual circumstances of the devolved nations, this needs to take into consideration Scotland’s distinct differences, such as the beverages, seafood and natural gas sectors, which make up a greater proportion of Scottish exports than they do for the UK as a whole. Scottish food & drink representatives told us there was a “real fear” amongst the sector that these differences would not be accounted for when the UK came to negotiate future trade agreements with large UK exporting industries such as the automotive, aviation and financial services sectors being the priority for UK negotiators.

One way to ensure Scotland’s interests are at the heart of UK trade policy is for the Scottish Government to be more involved in setting policy, this will be especially important as modern trade deals will likely involve the UK making commitments in devolved areas that the Scottish Government is responsible for. The current systems for involving the devolved administrations are outdated and inadequate, instead what is needed is a mature approach with the Scottish Government being treated as a trusted partner who can provide insight to the process and represent the views of Scottish business and civic society.

We therefore welcome the encouraging words from the Government that the Scottish Government will have an opportunity to engage and contribute to UK trade policy that it will be publishing new guidance setting out what form this will take. These guidelines must provide the Scottish Government with a meaningful role in all stages of the formulation, negotiation and implementation of future trade agreements.

In particular, we want to see the UK Government establish a Joint Committee on international trade to provide a formal route through which the Scottish Government can inform the UK negotiating position. We also want the UK Government to commit to including representatives from the Scottish Government in the UK negotiating team. This would needed to be done with the understanding that Scottish ministers could not deviate from the UK negotiating position; respecting the fact that international trade is a reserved matter.

These measures will require trust and goodwill from both Governments to work, but if approached in the right manner could lead to a new era in trade cooperation within the UK and guarantee Scottish exports are front and centre of future UK trade policy.

Pete Wishart is Chair of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee & SNP for Perth and North Perthshire

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