Post-Brexit Trade Deals Could Happen in the Dark. Here's Why That's a Problem
For the process to work, the public has to have a say.
You might not realise it, but Britain's international trade has a huge impact on the world around us.
It does everything from dictating the food that lands on our children’s plates to deciding whether vulnerable communities can work their way out of poverty.
Now, with Brexit just around the corner, the UK has the chance to re-write the way it does business with developing countries — and, as a result, has a chance to improve lives.
Right now, the UK government is deciding how our country will trade with the world after we leave the EU. The bills that are being agreed on are the Trade and Customs Bills, and they lay the foundation for how the UK will approach and conduct trade once we leave the EU in March.
But in its current form, the Trade Bill doesn’t give MPs the right to scrutinise, set guidelines, amend, or stop trade deals after Brexit. And the government is pushing through this legislation that would allow it to sign new trade deals in the dark, without the public or parliament having a say.
What’s more, the bill doesn’t oblige the government to listen to what the public thinks, or even investigate the potential impact of new trade deals on issues like human rights, gender equality, the environment, or poverty.
This is concerning because, for the process to work, it has to be transparent, and the public and MPs need to be able to have a say in the process.
“There is a very real threat that the UK could start negotiating new deals in 2019 (subject to the Brexit negotiations, of course!), without any formal role for parliament in the process and without any legal commitment to conduct impact assessments,” the Fairtrade Foundation said in a blogpost.
“This would mean UK MPs having less say over trade post-Brexit, than our UK [Members of the European Parliament] MEPs currently have,” it added. “It would also cut out the devolved administrations — granting power solely to the UK Secretary of State to strike these deals — and could mean that the impact on producers in poorer countries gets overlooked.”
A lot of the UK government’s approach to post-Brexit trade is still unclear, and we’re concerned that decisions are being made without the public’s or politicians’ knowledge.
It’s currently not clear how the government intends to make sure that any new trade deals with countries like the US, Canada, China, and Australia don’t negatively impact developing countries — particularly those that export similar products.
It’s also not clear how the UK will trade with developing countries not poor enough to be classified as the “least developed”.
These are difficult questions, but it’s vital that MPs and the British public continue to ask them until we get a straight answer.
“[Modern trade agreements] cannot be left to the prerogative of the government of the day, but instead should be based on public consultation and subject to full parliamentary debate and consideration,” said UK-based Fairtrade organisation Traidcraft, in evidence submitted to parliament.
“There are a number of areas where the proposed Trade Bill should be improved to ensure the government meets its commitment to sustainable development, ensures greater accountability to the electorate, and upholds democratic principles,” it added.
In the lead-up to the triggering of Article 50 in 2017, Global Citizen worked with the Fairtrade Foundation and Traidcraft to ensure that the UK would continue to protect trade with developing countries after Brexit.
After 38,000 of you signed our campaign petition, international trade secretary Liam Fox announced in June 2017 that the world’s poorest countries would retain tax-free access to the UK market.
Now, Global Citizen is standing with the Fairtrade Foundation and other organisations to call for the Trade and Customs Bills to enshrine in law a greater role for parliament and the public in shaping and scrutinising all future trade agreements.
You can join us by taking action on this issue here, where you can email or tweet your MP, calling for them to ensure that these vital trade deals aren’t happening in the dark.