Committee calls for parliament to have a vote on trade deals

By agency reporter
December 31, 2018

Parliament’s International Trade Committee has called for improvements in transparency and scrutiny of trade negotiations. As the UK develops an independent trade policy and is scheduled to start trade negotiations in a matter of months, the Committee says Parliament must have a meaningful role throughout trade negotiations, including an automatic vote on trade deals. 

In a report published on 28 December 2018, the Committee notes that levels of public trust in trade policy are low, and says current procedures are "insufficien"’ to address this. It also considers that current structures for involving devolved nations and regions are "not sufficiently robust".

Jean Blaylock, Senior Trade Campaigner at War on Want said: “This strong call from the International Trade Committee is hugely important. Modern trade deals aren’t just about taxes on goods crossing borders any more. They impact on everything from food standards to climate to the NHS, and they can be immensely powerful, cutting through the rules and standards of our society like a juggernaut. The need for basic democratic procedures to be put in place is clear. MEPs in Europe, and members of the US Congress get a vote on trade deals, so why shouldn’t MPs?"

“We need a democratic framework for trade negotiations right now. Trade officials in Whitehall are already talking to dozens of countries and can start formal negotiations straight after Brexit day. But they are doing this behind closed doors, without any oversight at all – we don’t even have a list of which countries they are talking to, where they’ve got to, or what the plans are. The Trade Bill, currently frozen in Parliament, needs fixing urgently so that Parliament and the public have a voice on trade.”

The International Trade Committee’s report, UK trade policy transparency and scrutiny, calls for a range of changes to the way things are done in trade negotiations:

  • At the start, there should be a negotiating mandate setting out clear instructions for negotiators, which Parliament must debate and approve.
  • During negotiations there should be a ‘presumption of transparency’ in which all documents on the negotiations are public, unless there is a specific reason for a particular document to be kept secret.
  • A parliamentary committee such as the ITC must be able to fully scrutinise negotiations, including any confidential material.
  • At the end of negotiations, Parliament must get an automatic vote on each trade deal.
  • The devolved administrations should be involved throughout and an intergovernmental committee should be formed to enable this.
  • Current plans for consultation mechanisms with the public and business should be broadened and made more open and inclusive.

* Read  UK trade policy transparency and scrutiny here

* International Trade Committee https://www.parliament.uk/tradecom

* War On Want https://www.waronwant.org/

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