Q Thank you. We will now hear oral evidence from the witnesses. Before calling the first Member, I remind the Committee that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill, and we must stick to the timings in the programme motion that have been agreed. For this session, we have until 10.25 am at the latest.
Will the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?
Nick Ashton-Hart, how easy will it be to simply roll over and replicate the existing trade agreements that we have through the EU? In your view, does the Bill make provision for appropriate levels of consultation, parliamentary scrutiny and accountabilityQ ?
Thank you for inviting me—this is a first for me. To answer the first question, it depends very much on whether it is in the interests of the counterparties to those agreements to roll them over without modification. Since those agreements were created for a number of member states other than just us, those partner countries will go through a process of evaluating the net trade benefit to them of applying those terms to us alone. Where they have an interest in changing the terms to their benefit, they will seek to do so, because that is what Trade Ministries do—they seek economic benefit for their country, and they expect you to seek it for yours. Unless the trade benefits for them are exactly the same for us alone as they are for 28 other countries, they are going to ask for changes in their interests.
If the shoe were on the other foot, I suspect we can all imagine that it would be hard for our Trade Ministry officials to come to you all and say, “Well, we have just copied an agreement with a large trading bloc for one country’s benefit because it is in a hurry.” I suspect we will find that this will take some time—trade agreements always do.
We are really concerned about the lack of scrutiny and accountability in the Bill. Global Justice Now, and a number of other organisations, worked on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership for a long time. We had some concerns about that agreement—not with the potential tariff areas, but with the non-tariff areas. In modern trade deals, non-tariff aspects make up the bulk of the agreement. That means everything from regulation—we probably all now know more than we would like about chlorinated chickens, but that is just one symbol of the regulatory aspects of trade deals that really concern the public, and I think many parliamentarians, too. Intellectual property, which has a direct correlation to the price of medicines and the price that the NHS may bear for them, through to local government procurement and e-commerce can also be added to that.
Modern trade deals touch on huge areas of public policy, which should be within the scope of Parliament to control. We are concerned that the Bill does not allow for that scope. As Nick said, it is difficult for us to imagine that many of these deals will be a straight cut and paste. That is why the explanatory notes allow for substantial changes to be made to the deals, but without the requisite scrutiny that we believe Members deserve and require if we are to have proper control of our trade policy.
Chair, I know that others on my side wish to come in, but those on the other side may wish to speak.
Can I follow up? Can you at least suggest what sort of changes you think are necessary? How do you think Parliament can deliver what you have just indicated you wantQ ?
Certainly. We think there should be several stages. First, before the negotiations, Parliament or a parliamentary Committee should give consent to those negotiations and should have some role in setting out the broad framework or objectives. We also think that at that stage the Government should have a responsibility to conduct and publish impact assessments and public consultations. It is set out in great detail how those should be conducted in the European Union and the United States.
As the negotiations are proceeding, Parliament should be able to scrutinise Ministers on what they are negotiating. It should be able to see negotiating texts. We think there should be a presumption that negotiating texts should be transparent to everybody, but even if there are specific reasons why they cannot be, they should certainly be transparent to MPs. If the Government want to change their mandate, they should have to come back to Parliament or to a parliamentary Committee to ask for that.
When negotiations are finalised, there should be a guaranteed debate and, at the least, an up-or-down vote. That would make a huge difference, because at the moment at none of those stages does Parliament have any control: it is not allowed to know what is going on in the negotiations; it has no role in setting the mandate; it is not allowed to see the negotiating texts; it is not guaranteed a debate; and it cannot vote against a trade deal. We think that what I have suggested would bring us into line with other modern democracies.
I will give a very small example. CETA, which still has not had a proper debate in the House, has been discussed in detail for days by the Wallonian Assembly in Belgium. They take seriously the regulatory aspects of trade deals and we think that, post-Brexit, we need to be looking at a similar model.
Q What other countries do you think we should be looking to for the way they do these things?
We know that post-Brexit we want to be doing a trade deal with the European Union and the United States, so they are good places to start. Both political entities have set out in detail a number of ways in which they negotiate and give Congress or Parliament power over trade deals. In the United States, a 700-strong citizen advisory board is allowed to see all the texts. They have to have very specific public consultations. At the very least, Congress gets an up-or-down vote at the end, and if it does not fast-track trade deals, it gets substantially more power than that.
In the European Union, the Parliament gets to feed into a mandate—the Council gets to set a mandate. Various parliamentary Committees get to look at, scrutinise and give recommendations to the Executive for how a trade deal would affect jobs, the economy, the environment, human rights, or whatever else we may be concerned about. At the end, the Parliament is given a proper debate and an up-or-down vote.
On top of that, as I have already said, many trade deals are required to go back to member Parliaments for them to have a say, too. If you look at how Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands or Finland operate, they already exercise far more scrutiny over external EU trade deals than the UK does.
Q Mr Dearden, you say that Parliament should approve Government entering into negotiations. Given that the Government are talking to at least 100 countries at all times about trade, how would that work in practice?
There are various ways in which you could do it. One of the ways is to have a Committee set up particularly to scrutinise the Government on this. When the time comes to enter negotiations on a deal, it will discuss with the Government what their priorities are and they will say, “We think this is acceptable and this is not acceptable.” It will be brought in from the very beginning.
I think that is important, because the Secretary of State has said a number of times, “I really want to avoid a TTIP-style situation, where we end up with a deal in discussion that has lost public support and lost a lot of parliamentary support.” To do that, we must have that buy-in from the very beginning, and that must require some degree of parliamentary discussion about what the objectives for this country should be in a trade deal with country X.
You can look at how it happens in Denmark, for example, because they do exactly that. They have a parliamentary Committee that sets a mandate at the initiation of trade talks. I understand that obviously the Government are talking to loads of different countries at any one time about possible trade, but within each of the countries they are talking to, they must have objectives. It is for Parliament to scrutinise, set and agree to those objectives.
At the moment, I do not feel that we have that ability. We are talking to a lot of countries; we have 16 trade working groups currently set up between the Secretary of State and other countries. We know, because we have read it in the media, that various negotiations are ongoing with some of those countries, but Parliament, and we as civil society, have no right to know what is being discussed, when it is being discussed and with whom. That is a profound democratic deficit. At the very least, if these are formal working groups involved in trade discussions, we should know what they are talking about, to whom and when.
There is something to be said for that if you look at previous trade agreements such as TTIP—how they have worked and how people have felt about them. There is a big populist backlash going on around the world at the moment, part of which is a result of people feeling there is a democratic deficit in the trade agreements being signed.
We have lots of ideas for how we could construct a trade agreement and how we would want to do it, and I should say now that we are absolutely not against trade; even with TTIP, we were not against the tariff aspects of that trade agreement. When it comes to public policy, it is different. Again, I am not against international co-operation, in trade agreements or other agreements, but there has to be a democratic basis for how those things are decided.
They might be or they might not. It depends how they are done, who they are done with and what the terms are. If you have two very different types of country, in terms of wealth and power, obviously there can be a big problem because some people have a much bigger negotiating hand than others. That is what we have seen with economic partnership agreements, which is why we would prefer, for example, to give tariff-free access to goods coming from those countries rather than do a reciprocal agreement, which also puts what we believe to be unsustainable and unhelpful conditions on the African country concerned.
My concern is not with the follow-on scrutiny of events that happened, but more the idea that somehow Parliament should require our existing teams in negotiations to seek approval before they start those conversations. That is my concern, but I will not delay the Committee any longer.
Q You were talking about the way in which other countries do the preparation of mandate and scrutiny of the process of creating a trade agreement. I wonder whether perhaps Nick Ashton-Hart could talk about the system in Australia and how the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties does it—or perhaps the system in Germany. Could one of you talk about that?
I would also say on the point about when terms of reference are set and whether our ambassadors need permission before they go and talk, I worked with most of our trading partners in Geneva and dozens of other countries. There are a lot of commonalities in how legislatures interact with Trade Ministries. Generally, the Trade Ministry will say, “We want to achieve these objectives over the course of this Parliament or this year,” and that is done in consultation with the relevant parliamentary Committees.
Ambassadors explore ideas with countries all the time; they do not need a mandate to do that. When it becomes clear that there is interest in formalising something, a process goes on in the capital to say, “Okay, what is our net benefit to be achieved?” To do a deal of any configuration with country X, the economics teams in the Ministry would go away and say, “Where is the net trade-generative agreement here? What sectors would we have to include? What likely trade-offs would we have to do with the other side?”
But that process would generally be informed by a consultation with the stakeholders in the industrial sectors that have most to gain or lose, the unions in those sectors and the like, so that before you even get into a negotiation, you know where your benefits lie, you have your stakeholders signed up to what you are trying to achieve and the other side knows that you have those things.
As I pointed out in my comments, the reason why you see so many leaks in trade negotiations is that it is in the interest of one party or another to put pressure on the other in their capital. Leaks do not happen by accident; they are deliberate.
You are familiar with how that dynamic works. It is no different in trade negotiations.
What I have described is pretty much a common process everywhere in the world, and it is not accidental; it is because the political economy demands that you have the backing, as a negotiator, at home when you are sitting across the table from your counterparties and that they know that you have that. They can watch your processes of consent and agreement and evaluate where your weaknesses are—where there are buttons they can push, but also where you are likely to need support. People know that you have to get to a sustainable deal also, and sometimes you have to do a concession at the right time to solve a problem in a domestic constituency for your counterparty, provided that it is in your interest to do so.
AsQ Mr Dearden will know, this Bill is not concerned with the making of future trade deals. However, of the 40 trade deals that we are seeking to transition, could you set out for the Committee which you supported at the time and which you opposed?
I do not have a complete list of all of them, but I do know that we have very serious concerns about the economic partnership agreements with African countries, for example, because of some of the conditions that are placed on those countries. We have particular concerns, because we worked on it, with the CETA agreement with Canada, again related to the so-called non-tariff barriers in that agreement.
One problem is that no matter what we thought about the agreements when they were originally negotiated, they are going to look different when it comes to being translated into or replaced by a UK-Canada or UK-African country agreement; they are just going to be different deals. Given that, I think it only right that there be some degree of scrutiny. It says in the Bill, “Well, we aim for these deals to be as similar as possible.” I understand that, but it may well be that some of the deals will be more similar than others.
For the deals that are more similar, I think it would be right and proper for Parliament to say, “Okay, fine. We will wave that one through. We understand that that is continuity.” But for other deals—what a substantial amendment or change in the deal would look like is not defined—we believe that Parliament should have proper scrutiny and proper ratification powers. That is particularly important for deals that have not even been through the proper ratification process in the European Union—examples involve Singapore, Japan and Vietnam. Those deals may all be replaced by UK deals, but they have not been through the proper process as yet in the European Union, and we do not want to see a situation in which they are taken on just because we are so rushed that we do not have time to really think about the consequences of the deals.
I would say we are supportive of trade, but it depends on how it is done. Absolutely. For example, I would say that an awful lot of trade that has happened in the European Union over the last 40 years —not all of it, because some of it we would be concerned about—has raised standards. It has raised standards for producers and for consumers, and that is positive. In the European Union, there is at least a balancing of trade and economic interests with social interests and environmental interests and with democratic scrutiny and accountability, so it is possible to do that.
This question is for Nick Ashton-Hart. Given the sheer number and the complexity of the deals that you are describing, do you believe that it is possible to have all the agreements ready to go on day one after Brexit?Q
There are so many moving parts. Assuming that there is a date, that we know it, and that all counterparties have a few years’ advance warning of it—the date that matters is a date on which existing agreements will no longer be available to us—we would have to look at their approval process and count backwards to find the date by which we would have to conclude our negotiations with them. That is the only way that you would know what your actual hard finishing date was for any of those agreements. I do not know if that analysis has been done by the Department for International Trade—I am hoping that it has done some of it, and I am guessing that it probably has. Say it takes two years, and we have two years. We are not going to finish an agreement tomorrow, so that means that that deal will not be done in time. What percentage of our GDP, and of our exports and imports, is that deal, which will not be available?
That is the first thing that you would have to do is know how much negotiating time you have, and with which parties. You would then have to prioritise deals based on their economic importance to us. I am not sure what the decision tree is within the Ministry—I am sure that there must be one—for what it prioritises. The only way that you all will have a clear picture of the deadlines is to work backwards. I have seen no discussion at all of how long it takes our counterparties to conclude approving an agreement, but it can be a considerable time, depending on the country. I imagine it would be very difficult. The short answer is that it is hard for me to imagine that there are even enough people to negotiate that many deals simultaneously with that many parties, unless you had several years to do it.
For example, there are serious human rights abuses in Turkey at the moment. The Prime Minister, as many people know, was the first political leader to visit Donald Trump in the United States after he was elected. After visiting President Trump, she went to President Erdoğan of Turkey, and a trade deal was part of the negotiations there. At that time, she also sold £100 million-worth of weapons to Turkey. That was an inappropriate thing to do, and it was connected with our ability to conduct a trade deal with that country, post Brexit. You may disagree with that, of course, but at the very least, there should be parliamentary control over those kinds of actions and activities. I do not think that just because they are in the international realm, they should be negotiated under royal prerogative; they have an impact on policy here. MPs should be apprised of that and should authorise it.
That is a really important point. On the public policy aspects of trade deals, traditionally we thought that we did not need to worry about whether we ratified the trade deal, because Parliament would have the power to authorise implementing legislation for the various things that we needed to do to put the trade deal into effect. There is a problem with that: once a trade deal is signed and ratified, it really makes no difference whether Parliament enacts that legislation or not—we are committed to it under international treaty. It is too late to say no. Normally, we do not intend to say no—we have done the deal—but if there was a real dispute, and Parliament said, “We have a problem with that”, we would have real difficulty in stopping it, because we had already agreed to do it.
Various things that impact on public policy are never brought forward for implementation as legislation anyway. One of the things that people were particularly concerned about with TTIP, as you probably know, was the investment protection tribunals that allow overseas companies to sue Governments for various things—for what they regard as unfair treatment, for the indirect expropriation of assets and so on. There is a lot of public concern about those bodies, because people feel that this infringes on democratic sovereignty and accountability, yet those things never need to be signed off by Parliament. They just exist in the trade deal, from day one, so Parliament does not have a say in whether things that have been proved to have tangible impacts on public policy come into effect. That is one example of why it is important for the ratification process to be seen as directly impinging on public policy, and why scrutiny and accountability are necessary.
Several. I think first for the agreements you wish to transition you would look at the net economic benefit of transitioning them. You would then have to look at what likely changes the other party would be asking for—they would be doing the same analysis—and what changes you would ask for. You have to assume the worst. You have to assume the other party is going to ask for changes, and you have to assume that you will need to ask for some also. If you get lucky and you do not have to do any of that, that is great, but you cannot do this on hope. You have to do it on the worst-case scenario.
I think at that point you would have to bring in stakeholders to help you make that analysis. The expertise to do this is not all in government. It never is. It is also in the private sector and in academia. At the point where you had that you would know the basis on which you were transitioning the arrangements. This is not a trivial undertaking. Because of the regulatory impacts that newer deals, especially, have, you would also have to look at the consequences of certain changes to other arrangements.
For example, if there are most-favoured nation clauses in a deal that you wish to transition, as there often are, and if any changes are made to that arrangement when you transition it, it can impact all the other deals that have MFN clauses. This is now being discussed publicly, related to whether the EU could do an expanded services deal with us, and who would automatically get the benefits of it. For example, a Canadian deal would provide that the EU would have to give the benefits they give us to several other parties, Japan and Canada included.
We are in the same situation because there are MFN clauses in these agreements that we wish to transition, so you have to analyse the net economic benefit to you of the deal in question, but also the consequences of any changes to other deals that you want to transition, because you can guarantee that, for any MFN clause in any other deal, the parties that you are going to negotiate with will be looking at what you are giving in these other discussions and of course expecting to receive in them also.
There is a good reason why trade arrangements are slow, and there are not many going at one time. It is because this is an enormous number of moving parts to try to manage at one go—for us but also for the other Trade Ministries, because deals with us are not the only deals that they have going or that they are working on. If I were you, I would be asking the Ministry: “Look, what is your plan for dealing with these different eventualities?”
Q You mentioned things such as stakeholders and scrutiny a few times. Obviously the UK has not been directly responsible for trade deals for 40 years. Do you think this is the right opportunity to make a Bill that is more democratically, socially and economically transparent?
I think it is essential, aside from the benefits in terms of being a democracy that is looked up to by others as an example, and not wanting to set an example that is far below the minimum level of accountability in any other developed economy, which is what we would be doing—we would be setting a precedent here that should concern everyone.
Secondarily, it is in our interest to do that, because there is going to be a political hue and cry about various provisions in probably all the 40-plus deals. There is going to be something that someone does not like about them. That is the nature of trade agreements. Some sectors win and some lose. Losers complain and winners keep quiet mostly, because they do not want to provoke people who won. The objective is to have a net benefit, but that does not mean that within that there are not winners and losers.
There is going to be controversy associated with these arrangements. Having effective and robust consultation now will help insulate the negotiating process and provide a rationale for all of you, the Members, to go to your constituencies and say, “Look, there is a reason why we are doing it this way. We have had an oversight process. Here is what the country will get out of this.” For those districts or constituencies that will be negatively impacted by a deal, you will be able to go to your constituents and say, “Okay, on this one we may not do so well, but we will do well on this and this and this, and the net benefit to all of us is positive.” The consultation process provides all of you with the ammunition you need to explain why at a real level—the firm level and the sectoral level—transitioning the arrangements in the way that they will be agreed is in your constituents’ interests and the national interest.
Without that dialogue, you do not have that ammunition. Every time you are hit with a news story, you will have to go and ask the Ministry concerned, “How do I counter this?” Being reactive all the time on trade policy has a very unhappy history of negative views of trade in general, and of deals in particular. Criticism does not have to be true to stick, as I am sure we are all familiar. I would say—Nick might disagree—that there was some criticism of TTIP and provisions that were alleged would be in the deal, such as things that affected NHS procurement, which were actually excluded from the negotiating mandate. The fact that those criticisms were levelled did not stop there being a political cost to the negotiation as a whole from the allegation that those provisions would be inbuilt. On a pragmatic basis, there is a very strong argument for a robust consultation process, but the negotiators themselves are going to need information that is in the private sector and in academia as part of their negotiating arguments, and without a robust consultation process they will not have access to those.
I would like to bring Mr Howarth into the conversation. Going back to the purpose of the Bill and the need for the continuity agreements with those countries that are covered by EU deals, how practical is it, in your opinion, to transfer those agreements into bilateral trade dealsQ ?
It is important, getting back to the Trade Bill, that it only gives a power for existing trade agreements. These trade agreements are already in force and companies already rely upon them. When we talk about impact assessments, the biggest impact assessment is that these agreements are already in force or have already gone through a scrutiny process and may come into force, such as CETA. Obviously, in leaving the European Union, we are moving to a different scrutiny system. Before, they could be decided by the Commission, the European Parliament by qualified majority voting or, in the cases of mixed agreements, you would have to get unanimity, occasionally from devolved Administrations as well. We are moving to a new system, but these agreements are already in force.
The relationship with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is that we are keeping retained legislation and we are keeping the EU standards, so if there are any amendments to these agreements, they have to be in line with the regulations—the food safety and environmental standards—that are being retained in UK law. The scope for actually changing things is quite narrow. These have been through a scrutiny process. They are in force. This Bill is necessary, in my opinion, so that the people who rely on these agreements can be sure that they will be transferred over in time.
Trade agreements do traditionally take a very long time. In this case, they are already in force and we already have texts. Small amendments may need to be made around quotas—in some of the agreements we need to agree with the European Union and the counterparty how to split the quotas up—but the texts by and large have been agreed. In the future we may wish to come back to them to improve them or to fit them more to UK interests, but these agreements do exist. Trade agreements traditionally take a long time. I refer you to Parkinson’s law: that trade agreements tend to expand to the amount of time available to negotiate them. If you give trade negotiators 10 years to negotiate an agreement, it will probably take 10 years. In this case we have a fixed deadline, and I assume both sides will want to fit the negotiations and the necessary functions to that.
Q You made an important point. Clearly we need to ensure that the trade we have with many of these existing partner countries continues. That is an essential focus, which I think is uncontroversial around this room, but when you are talking about the amendments that might be made—as these treaties cease to be simply EU treaties that we are part of and become bilateral relationships with these countries, new treaties and distinct legal entities, as the addendums to the Bill have made clear—do you agree that it would be a fine opportunity for many of these countries to say that they want greater access to our markets in return for having this new agreement with us, or that they might take the opportunity to protect their market a little bit more? Might one of the reasons why the Bill puts in place a Henry VIII power be precisely because it envisages a scenario where such amendments might be made and where we might have to accommodate them, and the Minister then adopts that power in order to do so?
I think it is true to say that the agreements the European Union made were fitted around European Union interests and that if the UK were starting from scratch, we may have had other interests. The EU interests would protect French farmers and the French audio-visual industry. You would get a price on the other side, say with Canadian agriculture. If the UK was doing it, we might do it differently. That is probably a discussion that would take longer and we would come back to later, and these agreements would probably stay exactly as they are. On the scrutiny side, we had a sort of mirror of this debate in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill negotiation and discussions in Parliament. There may be some—
Q Sorry, I did not ask about the scrutiny. I asked about the Henry VIII power, because if, as you have just suggested, most of these things will simply be rolled over and there will not be changes, what is the point of the Henry VIII power? Why would the Government need that, unless they precisely envisaged that there would be changes that they required that power to accommodate?
There may be some minor changes, potentially around the EU agreements and our relationship with the European Union. If there is an EU-agreed quota in an agreement with a third country—in terms of how we split that up, how we change that or the wording of the agreement—then there may be references that need changing in the agreements. There may be minor changes, but I imagine the substance of the agreements will stay pretty much as they are.
Q Why would a third-party country not take this opportunity? You took the issues of audio-visual in France, agriculture and so on. Why would a country not see this as an opportunity to get a better deal, as Nick Ashton-Hart has suggested they may well do?
Q Indeed, but we have the need for speed. We do not want to gum things up. We want this to be done as quickly as possible, but that may not happen. Knowing that we are between a rock and a hard place in terms of time, other countries might see a negotiating advantage and an opportunity to press their case. Is that not the case?
The timeframe that we are working on at the moment is that we will leave the European Union on
Q May I also ask about the cost of not having those continuity agreements? What would be the impact on British business if we were not able to replicate the current deals, or something very close to them, at the point of leaving?
The countries that the European Union has agreements with—South Korea, South Africa, Mexico—are major trading partners. Something that has not been mentioned so far is the plurilateral World Trade Organisation government procurement agreement, which gives British businesses access to over £1 trillion of Government contracts around the world. As a liberal country that tends to accept contracts from other countries, it is important that we get reciprocal rights for British businesses to other countries. Remaining part of that plurilateral agreement, which the Bill allows, would be important for British businesses when seeking Government contracts abroad.
I am not really an expert in how the Australian Government do their consultations, so I cannot describe them in detail. I can describe how the trade officials who I deal with view them. From my conversations with trade officials over the past six or seven years, most of them find the oversight process challenging. The Australians are no exception to that.
For example, in the discussions on the flow of data that have taken place at the WTO and in the trade in services agreement negotiation, of which Australia is a part and which the US and Australia created, a significant portion of all the issues that delayed all the services parts—all the digital elements—of TISA were related to the flow of data and to the Australian negotiators’ view of what they could get their oversight processes to consent to in relation to it. A comprehensive change to their data protection regulation came into force about four years ago, and its structure made it impossible to evaluate how it would work in a plurilateral context because of how it applied liability when private information was given to non-nationals. That meant that they were unable to make an offer or respond to other offers for a considerable period of time—about 18 months, I think—as a result of their oversight process at home. That was in relation to just one part of the plurilateral negotiation.
That example has held true. I have seen it happen with probably half a dozen countries on various issues over time. If there is a political problem in one area, it generally gums up everything else because it is often not convenient for you to say, “I have a problem in Parliament at home, so I cannot talk to you about x and y.” Instead, you would say, “We are still consulting on that.” Meanwhile, you will ask for something impossibly difficult, knowing that the other party will then get stuck. Once your problem goes away, you can withdraw the thing that is causing things to stick over here, because this is the political economy. You do not want to be negotiating on your weaknesses. You want to negotiate on someone else’s, so you have to create them if you have a negotiating bloc.
YouQ have mentioned that a lot of the existing deals are premised on the fact that you have got 28 EU countries and, therefore, are negotiating for a majority and compromise. Why would UK Ministers choose to just accept these deals and not be tempted to try and use Henry VIII powers to manipulate the deals or negotiate further? Why would they accept it is already a compromise?
It is probably a matter of practicalities. There are a number of these around the world and starting negotiations with all of them at the same time is probably impractical. That is not to say that these agreements were not based on EU interests; UK interests are slightly different. There are things we would have prioritised to gain access for British companies and there were some defensive interests that were not relevant to the UK. Taking an example: citrus fruit or things we do not produce in this country. There were things we would have done differently.
These are probably questions to come back to at a later date. At the moment, it is about trying to make sure these agreements still exist when we leave the European Union, so it is the practicalities of getting these agreements moved over into the UK’s name and out of the EU’s name, putting the UK’s signature on them.
Q You also mentioned quotas. How did quotas get allocated in the new deals? How does that come across without effectively leading to a renegotiation of a whole lot of deals, because so many countries have got vested interests in different quotas?
If one of the European Union’s agreements has a quota in it, as the UK leaves, the counterparty might wish to continue to be able to export the same amount into the European Union and the UK. So it would be a three-way negotiation, which would involve splitting the quota up, with different countries taking different views as to what the fair way to do that would be.
Q This is more for Nick Ashton-Hart. You outlined that you really think Government should be doing impact assessments—assessing risks and opportunities. In terms of risks and opportunities, am I correct in thinking that the Government also need to look at how they are shaping their future domestic policy? We have heard that part of Brexit is that it is supposed to give opportunities to replace the common agricultural policy, but surely if you are looking at existing trade deals—taking them over, risks and opportunities—you need to look at a whole raft of other policies that are going to replace current EU-agreed, Europe-wide policies and procedures.
It depends very much on the nature of the deals in question and how recent they are. All the deals tend to be more focused on tariffs and the like, whereas it is somewhat simpler. Where it involves services, yes, even though these agreements are in force now, as was explained, you still have to accept that what France wanted from that deal when it was negotiated, what Germany wanted, what we wanted: these are not the same as what we and the other party want now. There are things such as protections for certain industries that we do not protect, but the other party will say, “Can we take that out?” and we might say, “Okay, but then we want this over here.”
Human nature is such that, if you are given a chance to negotiate on something and it is of serious monetary value, you are going to ask for a better deal than you got last time. If we buy cars, we do this. We don’t go and buy the car and say, “We will pay full price”—although some people might—or a house or the like. Countries do not do this. So you have to assume that normal human behaviour is not going to be thrown out of the window simply because we are in a hurry to transition our arrangements over to someone else. You have to assume that human nature will still apply and the other country is still going to behave as a rational negotiating partner, which is to seek their advantage from our need for speed.
The only way then to proceed is to say, “Okay, let’s look at these deals as they apply to us now and let’s consider: what is the other side likely to ask for? What is it in their interests to ask for and is it in our interests to agree to it, because it is expeditious, or because it is in our interests, or both?” You have to treat this as a negotiation, not as a replication.
Q Would we be negligent if we did not take this opportunity to try to improve the economic benefit that we get out of these deals?
I cannot imagine that the constituencies of this country would see it any other way. This is a substantial portion of our GDP; it is a substantial portion of our export and import. How can you say to people that you passed up an opportunity to make things better, when that was part of the premise under which we are doing this whole exercise in the first place? And our other counterparties certainly will not see our need for speed as anything other than an advantage to them, because it is. We are the ones in a hurry. Japan is 1.8% of our exports or something like that.
Q You mentioned Australia and that example sounds truly horrendous, in terms of gumming up. By the way, I think that in Australia trade deals are signed and agreed by the Cabinet, not by Parliament. Bearing in mind that you are talking about whether we are really in a negotiation starting from scratch or a replication with minor changes, 18% of the world’s data is currently hosted in the UK. There are businesses right across Europe that are completely reliant on all of that trade working the day after. So do you not think that because there will be business pressure on things actually running practically, that will ensure that this negotiation does not go back to the beginning, because the business pressure is that it continues as efficiently as it runs today?
If people are trading with us now under an arrangement, there is an incentive for them to see that it continues. I am not suggesting that that is not true. What I am suggesting is that it is an opportunity for the other parties to ask for things that they wanted last time and did not get, or that the passage of time of those agreements—age—means that it is appropriate to ask now. I am saying that everyone needs to bring home some benefit for something.
Q If that benefit has a cost of businesses not running, that will not be seen as a benefit in their own countries. That is what you are weighing up here, is it not? The status quo operating as efficiently as it does—
I am saying that I have never seen or heard of a Trade Ministry not asking for some improvement when any deal is being renegotiated, because that is how you are seen to be doing your job.
It depends on the nature of the agreement. If it is a situation where a quota has to be split, then yes. We see this in Geneva now, where the quotas at WTO level are being split up, or even our closest trading partners are arguing over whether one plus one equals one. In other areas, it is not necessarily the case. It really depends on the way the original agreement was made, and who else might benefit from a change to it through an MFN clause, or the like.
Where there are rules that we are accepting from the EU, then of course we have less flexibility to make a change if it is asked for by the other side; that would conflict, of course.