Q Perhaps I could start by asking Professor Winters about the economic partnership agreements that the EU has with developing countries. They are in the list of those that the Government are seeking to replicate. Do you believe that replicating those agreements and creating EU-UK equivalence is the best way forward in our engagement with the developing world? Are they models that the economic partnership agreements countries themselves would wish to see replicated?
In general, they have been a pretty poor piece of policy. As far as the UK is concerned, I would suggest that we might want to consider rolling them over for two or three years, but I would hope that that two or three-year period was then used to try to devise a more satisfactory regime. They encourage distortions in the developing countries. The developing countries are put through the agony of trying to negotiate together, which is very costly and time-absorbing for them, and rather ineffective. What we need to do is to try to find a much simpler way of allowing developing countries access to the British market than the current EPAs.
Given that there is this renegotiation going on, do you feel that those countries might seek to use the occasion as a means of bettering the current agreement in some way? Or would they feel—if they are being told, “You will not get a trade agreement unless you do this quickly”—that they are being bullied into doing it against their will?Q
By and large, countries find it very difficult to resist the offer of tariff-free access to a market. If they were put in a position where they were told it was the equivalent of the EPA or nothing indefinitely, my guess is that most would shrug and accept the EPA, but given one quarter of a chance, they would want to talk to us about a more reasonable and satisfactory—and in the end more efficient—process of market access.
Q Professor Winters, we have before us in part 2 a broad legal framework for a future remedies authority. In your view, is it robust enough? If not, what should we be thinking about amending?
The Trade Remedies Authority is something we clearly need. Without seeing a lot more details about exactly how it operated, I would not want to say whether it is robust, but I would like to emphasise three things about it. One is, I understand, Government policy; I think the others are not.
The so-called lesser duty rule is important for safeguards and anti-dumping. That is essentially the rule that says the duty you put on goods that are allegedly dumped is the lower of the amount of dumping—the dumping or injury margin—required to make good the British industry. That is a good rule to have.
The two things I am less clear are there at the moment are, first, a very strong degree of transparency. Its operations need to be, with the exception of commercial confidence, pretty much out in the open. The second is that experience through decades in nearly every country suggests that these trade remedies are captured by producer interests. They are complex, they are triggered by the producers complaining that they cannot manage or that they are being cheated, and the whole process essentially favours them.
The really important thing is that, exactly like the House of Commons, you need an opposition. I would urge that we try to supplement the Trade Remedies Authority with an officially sanctioned and resourced group to represent the consumer interest, to do the analysis and actually have the right of audience at the TRA to make the case.
If I may add to that, of course the trade remedies provisions are spread across this Bill and the customs Bill. If one looks at the customs Bill to find out where the appeal mechanism is—as a barrister, my first thoughts go to what the appropriate appeal mechanism is—all you find is a power of the Secretary of State to make appropriate regulations.
It is my personal view that that is somewhat unsatisfactory. There are a number of important questions that arise about appeals, one of which is very important, and that is what the appropriate standard of review is. Is it a merits review, which enables a specialist appeal court to correct the decision maker on questions of fact as well as questions of law, or is it simply a judicial review mechanism, where all the court is doing is saying, “Is this a reasonable decision, whether it is right or wrong?”? It is a very important decision to make and it seems to me that that is one that ought to be made by Parliament in primary legislation and not by the Secretary of State or the Executive in a statutory instrument. That is a decision for you.
The appeals mechanism is important. I said slightly flippantly that it was because I am a barrister, but it is the experience of all regulatory processes that what actually happens at the regulatory stage is often very conditioned and influenced by the form of an appeal. Any sensible regulator will, during the process, have their eye on what the appeal route is, who can appeal and what the level of scrutiny of their decision is going to be.
If you have a very robust form of appeal mechanism, which is open to both parties— the complaining industry but also a range of interest groups whose interests might be affected by the imposition of duty—and if they are allowed routes to appeal that will encourage the regulator, in this case the TRA, to take robust decisions. That is robust in the sense of fully reasoned decisions that will sustain detailed scrutiny, to ensure that all parties are properly heard so that they are fully aware of where the objections to what they are proposing to do are and can properly evaluate them. You get better decision making out of all of that.
I sent the secretary to this Committee a copy of a briefing paper I did for the UK Trade Forum website, which is there if any of you want to read it. It expands a bit on that point but I would emphasise the appeal mechanism. There are other issues about the trade remedies. I have probably spoken for long enough but if people have other questions they could ask about them.
I read your blog; it is very good. The other thing that I would say is that the tenure should be made more independent by having term limits. That is quite important in reinforcing independence and impartiality. We have had experience in Scotland of the whole system of judicial appointments being reworked for temporary sheriffs because they did not have a stated term and were subject to the whim of the appointing Ministers. That would be my addition to this discussion.
The provisions for the appointment of members of the Trade Remedies Authority are very similar to the provisions for appointments to the Competition and Markets Authority, which as anyone who has watched the press this morning knows takes very important decisions about the economy. There is a difference with the Trade Remedies Authority, and the argument why you might need a more constraining set of rules governing whom the Secretary of State might appoint. At the moment the Secretary of State appoints the majority and the rest are staff members. There may be an argument for a more constraining set of rules, particularly if the Trade Remedies Authority is—as the customs Bill contemplates—itself given the remit of applying a wide range of economic interest tests as the trade remedies body. That means that even if the TRA accepts that there is a legal basis for opposing a trade remedy, then as a matter of economic interest to the UK it is able to say, “We are not going to do so here because, for example, the consumer interest outweighs the interest of the particular producers affected.”
That seems to me to be a political position: it is balancing the interests of jobs in a particular area of the country against the interests of consumers across the country, to put it crudely. If the TRA is, as the customs Bill contemplates, itself going to be taking that kind of decision, then there is a case for saying that its composition ought to be balanced by statute and that it ought to reflect a variety of different perspectives. In that sense its role is much more political than that of the Competition and Markets Authority.
Q The Government claim that the process of replicating the trade agreements to which we are currently party as EU member states would be a simple roll-over process. Do you foresee any complications?
Yes, I’m afraid that I do see complications of a technical nature and, in a sense, of a political nature as well. The technical complications concern rules of origin to begin with. Every trade agreement essentially has rules of origin that determine whether a good qualifies for zero-tariff entry. A typical rule of origin says that 50% of the value must be contributed from the country claiming the duty-free access. If we take a good that is exported to Korea that is made in the UK but with a 40% input from the EU and 30% input from the USA, it gets into Korea tariff-free because the UK plus the EU27 contribution is at 70% larger than the rule of origin requires. If we are outside and by ourselves we have only 30% of the content—the value of that good—and we would not get into Korea tariff-free if the Koreans applied the same rule.
Equally, there are cases coming the other way of goods that are exported to the EU where, for instance, Korea could export a good directly into the EU27 because it has a free trade agreement for a good produced in Korea. But if they send it into the UK and we insert it into something that we then seek to send to the EU, then it might not get in because Korean content will not count towards the UK content to meet the EU’s rule of origin.
What do you do about all this? You essentially have to do something called diagonal cumulation. Korea, the UK and the EU essentially have to agree that each of them retreat from its rule of origin the content of the other two as the defining origin. In that specific case, it would restore the status quo. That needs to be negotiated with the Koreans and the EU.
Other places where we have technical problems are in the splitting up of tariff-rate quotas. For instance, there are tariff-rate quotas in the agreement with Canada: that is an agreement to import a particular volume of goods tariff-free. This has to be settled on an EU28 basis, and now it has to be divided between the UK and the EU27. On occasions, there are clauses of these agreements that refer back to a body of law in the parties. In the financial services agreement with Korea, there is a reference to accepting goods into the Korean market that were introduced into the European market without asking any further questions as long as they are consistent with existing law and do not entail a modification of existing law. That existing law—if that clause makes any sense at all—was law when the agreement was signed; it is EU law. If we tried to introduce even an equivalent law, we would have to argue the case that it needs to be treated as such for us to get access to Korea for financial services. Those are the technical reasons why there are serious problems.
Politically, we need a deal. If the transition is handled in any way that is fairly straightforward—although George has a proposal that is complicated but perhaps gets around it—it is possible that the transition will allow Korean goods into the UK tariff-free, but not UK goods into Korea tariff-free. Therefore, we really need a deal, and if you really need a deal, that is not the time to be negotiating.
Q To follow up quickly, perhaps addressing Michael Clancy directly, what role do you believe the devolved Governments would have in trade negotiation prior to agreements being concluded? Do you think the Bill sets out suitable frameworks within which matters of devolved competence can be represented?
Under the Scotland Act 1998, paragraph 7 of schedule 5, international agreements, including trade agreements, are not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. In that sense there is no formal role in agreeing international agreements. That being said, one of the things we have sought to promote throughout this process, with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, this Bill and associated measures, is that there should be some form of whole-of-governance conversation about getting things right. As we know, this Bill will affect the competence of Scottish Ministers and allow orders to be made that may amend, for instance, Acts of the Scottish Parliament, and measures from Wales and Northern Ireland too.
There is clearly an issue about how the Sewel convention or legislative consent convention is interpreted in respect of that. Under devolution guidance note 10, any proposals in UK Parliament legislation that seek to alter the legislative competence of the Parliament or of Scottish Ministers require the consent of the Parliament. That also applies to the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Therefore, there is an issue. Today in the Scottish Parliament there is a debate about legislative consent in respect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and the Finance and Constitution Committee of the Scottish Parliament is currently consulting on the legislative consent memorandum on this Bill, where the Scottish Government have indicated that they would not recommend that the Parliament pass it.
It is a matter of political debate and discussion, and something that I know both the Scottish and UK Governments have in their sights in the concordat they are thinking about. That includes a framework for dealing with trade matters. There is a role, but I do not know it yet, because neither the Scottish nor the UK Government have told us what it is.
I would like to ask Professor Winters a question about part 3 of the Bill, which concerns trade information. Would you agree that the information that this Bill enables will help the Government to shape their export support programme? Are there any additional powers that you would like to see this part of the Bill containQ ?
Information is very important, not least in my trade, for analysing what goes on. The case for collecting reasonable amounts of information, as long as it is cheap to do so, is very strong indeed, subject to the standard confidentiality requirements. I confess, on reading the Bill it did not strike me that there were obvious things that were missing, but I would not want to assert that I read it sufficiently carefully to say that nothing is missing. It is important that the Government have the right to collect information, and that information should be made as widely available as possible. The Government clearly need to make policy, but there needs to be public debate, too; it is not just the Government who need to discuss policy issues. I did not interpret this as being part of the Bill, but in general, information other than private or commercially confidential information really should be made available to a wide community of people to enable them to analyse policy.
I am not sure that I can comment on the practicalities. They certainly want a large amount of information. My general rule would be that that needs to be information that firms collect anyway in the normal course of their business, and that it should be a simple matter to transfer it to HMRC.
Yes. I gave the example of rules of origin and tariff-rate quotas. Those very clearly have to be negotiated with the EU, because the EU is intimately involved in them, and they have to be negotiated with the partner. We cannot just arrive in Korea and say, “Here it is. We don’t want to talk about it.” They very clearly have trilateral dimensions, which I guess need to be sequenced and taken seriously.
Remember that there is a further wrinkle: these are going to be new trade agreements and we are going to have to notify them to the WTO. Although the WTO procedure for reviewing regional trading arrangements does not require us to ask permission, the WTO secretariat will make a good deal of information available to members, and other members may wish to clarify things to discuss and even, ultimately, to dispute. It is actually somewhat broader than trilateral, but you cannot avoid a tripartite discussion on quite a lot of aspects.
Q Thank you. According to the Queen’s Speech last June, the Bill is meant to set out the legislative framework for our independent trade policy. Do you believe that it establishes a proper framework to deliver what was promised?
I would not hold myself up as an authority on exactly what was promised, but it does not deliver a satisfactory framework for negotiating new trade agreements. There are many different models, but experience from around the world suggests that one needs a good deal of consultation, input and legislative oversight of trade agreements. You cannot have a position where Parliament can unpick a trade agreement that has been concluded. If Parliament claimed that right, no one would negotiate with us. That means that Parliament and the devolved Administrations need to have an important role in setting mandates, and there need to be consultation and information during the process. Civil society would certainly claim that it, too, ought to be consulted, and I would advocate that, to the extent that one can generate one, there should be a discussion publicly.
Trade policy comes along in treaties. It is intrusive. It affects people’s livelihoods. It is a very good thing that we are talking about trade policy now in a way that we have not for decades—since before the EU existed, in fact.
I would add as a footnote that one of the best short things I have seen written about this is a piece by Stephen Harper, the former Prime Minister of Canada. He is not generally known as a politician who always wanted to do everything by consensus, but it is simply an explanation of how the Canadian side prepared itself for the CETA negotiations. It very much emphasises the need to consult with everybody in Canada, to bring the provinces together as well as all industry, trade unions, all the political parties and other actors to try to get as much consensus as possible on what Canada was trying to achieve at the outset of the process, before it started. It is a very good piece from somebody whose perspective on it is interesting.
Q Picking up on both what Professor Winters said about not unpicking—Parliament should not be able to unpick a trade agreement—and what Mr Peretz said about Canada, Mr Clancy, once the UK Government, rather than the EU, set international trade agreements in place, what would be the implications if the devolved Administrations had a consent reserve and could implement some form of veto on internationally agreed obligations? How do you get that whole-of-governance approach where the consensus Mr Peretz was talking about is achieved so we know that what is agreed can ultimately be delivered without introducing an ex post facto power of veto that would stop it being implemented?
Let’s give it a shot, shall we? The important thing is that the UK Government are the negotiator of these international agreements. Parliament is the body that then ratifies agreements made by the sovereign power, exercised by Government. Therefore, in that sense, it is quite difficult to see how the devolved Parliaments would be able to exercise any form of consent reserve in respect of the making of an agreement and the ratification of an agreement.
The issue is that the parliamentary oversight of the agreement is deficient in this place and it is even more restrained when it comes to the devolved legislatures. That is the issue I would like people to focus on. Clearly something needs to be done to enhance oversight here. Earlier, we heard Brigid Fowler explain that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 provisions are inadequate. Why are they inadequate? Because they have only got this perpetualisation of the 21-day period, and this Bill does not allow for any form of implementation order other than a negative procedure order. Therefore, there is an issue about that.
The read across to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the sifting procedure that the Procedure Committee advanced and had accepted into the Bill—Mr Walker’s amendment last week or the week before—raises issues about what the relationship is between orders under this Bill and those under the EUWB. Why does this Bill amend the EUWB? Why not have amendments brought forward for that Bill, reflecting this Bill? I am sure that parliamentary draftspeople have an amour propre in respect of such things, but an ordinary individual—a rather rustic lawyer like myself—is not going to catch it immediately. These are the issues we ought to look at: parliamentary oversight, extending across these islands, and how we write something that attains the intention of Parliament.
If I might just cross over, I do not think the Bill is meant to implement new agreements; it is meant to transpose existing agreements. That is quite an important facet to dwell on. Although, if one scoots to the explanatory notes, one sees in paragraph 44 that there may be
“technical changes to the agreement” and in paragraph 53 it says:
“It may also be necessary to substantively amend the text” of the provisions. The question, therefore, is what is an existing agreement and how far does it have to be changed for it to change from being an existing agreement to a different agreement. That is a question that I do not care to essay on at the moment.
I have a general question for the panel. Listening to what people have said about agreements and given the need that we have to maintain existing trade relationships with 70-plus partners and, I think, 40-plus agreements in general, do you think the Government need to change their approach fundamentally and, if so, howQ ?
If I might go first, one can see the difficulty. It is a commonplace of the legislation on Brexit generally that there is a lot to do in a very short space of time. There is certainly a case for doing things by statutory instrument that ordinarily one might be very reluctant to see done in that way, simply because of the process of time and the time it takes to get primary legislation through.
We were discussing a few minutes ago general policy in relation to how Parliament should scrutinise future trade negotiations. It is entirely a fair point to say that the Bill is not about that. There may well be a case for the Government to produce a Bill about that, but that is a different question. This Bill is not about that, but about the roll-over.
We have touched on the difficulties. You have a number of difficulties in scope: what an international trade agreement is goes beyond trade and customs agreements. As I think Holger Hestermeyer pointed out, technically the definition includes the EEA agreement and the Turkey customs union agreement. If you think the Government have rather wide powers to implement the EEA agreement—one assumes the Government have no intention of using it that way—it is quite a wide power to give them.
There are questions about scope and about whether negative procedure is right, and there is the question Michael touched on about what is an existing agreement. The cynic in me as a lawyer tends to say from general experience that if you go to the other party to a contract and say, “I need to change this contract,” the normal response of a well-informed and well-advised counterparty is, “Well, yes, but let’s take the opportunity to get some other things in it.” So things are often not that simple. You may have quite wide and important changes being made, but I do not think there is a right legal answer. It is a question for you to think about as to whether this is an appropriate power to give the Government, given the need to do things quickly.
We do not have enough time—there are 430-odd days between now and
May I comment? In principle—I am not a lawyer and cannot really comment on how one can do this—essentially there is the very short-term, immediate problem of all these things that have to be done, but we do not want that to define the long-term by default. I think we need to have a very clear understanding from the body politic in general. The trade policy is an important instrument for a sovereign country to operate. It can be done well or it can be done badly, and we do need to continue to review it and go back to some of these things, so that even if we have to patch something up in the near future, which as near as dammit is the status quo, that should not say it is therefore closed forever. We need to go with our partners and say, “We need to reopen this.”
Q George Peretz, you were talking before about the Trade Remedies Authority. Can I bring you back to that? I believe that the Government are conducting a review into which trade offensive measures can be rolled over or passed forward—having heard that last piece of evidence, I am not sure what description to use. Can you describe the challenges and the consequences if some of those are not used by us when we are outside the EU?
Not all WTO law is clear, but what is pretty clear is that we could not simply automatically carry over existing trade remedies imposed by the EU and say, “These remedies will apply to the UK now that it is a separate WTO jurisdiction”—if I can use that term loosely. We cannot do that for one very simply reason: it is a condition of all trade remedies that there is a domestic injury. A domestic injury is defined, and the UK is obviously not the same as the EU. It is potentially an issue that applies the other way around, incidentally, but that it a problem for the EU rather than for us.
As far as I understand it, the Department for International Trade is feeling its way to dealing with this problem. As a first step, it is asking industries that benefit from an existing trade remedy to set out why they think it should continue and to explain what the domestic injury is. There is probably also a need for the UK to discuss with the European Commission what the position is. After all, in its investigation of all these remedies, the Commission will have built up a case file that will include quite a lot of information about what the injury is, some of which will be pinned down geographically. It will be able to say that that is evidence of an injury in the UK. Perhaps that could be used to justify carrying on the remedy after we have left the EU, but it would have to be the judgment of the new Trade Remedies Authority whether that evidence was good enough to withstand domestic scrutiny and appeals and, ultimately, a possible WTO challenge. There is a very difficult set of issues there, which will be a challenge for DIT and the TRA.
I want to go back to the scrutiny of the Bill. My understanding of what some people call the Henry VIII powers, for an SI or a DL, is that there is provision in both of those processes, whether they are negative or affirmative, to raise an objection for debate on the Floor of the House of Commons. My question is where is that process flawedQ ?
I do not claim to be a great expert in parliamentary procedure, and I am not sure that I can add very much to what Brigid Fowler said about that—she is an expert on parliamentary procedure.
Plainly, there is an opportunity to challenge a statutory instrument that uses the negative resolution procedure, but clearly it is less likely to be challenged—just look at the statistics—than a piece of primary legislation, because one fundamental point about any statutory instrument is that the vote is simply an all-or-nothing vote on the instrument. There is no ability to have the primary legislation to say, “We agree with most of this clause but we don’t like clause 5, therefore we would like to amend that.” It is take-it-or-leave-it. The problem with a lot of this is that you will be told that the clock is running and you need to decide very quickly what to do.
It is the balance between speed and scrutiny—that is the whole point. To get that right is quite difficult with a negative or indeed an affirmative resolution procedure. Although theoretically each of these could be debated, I think it would be very difficult to get each of these debated. There simply is not enough time to do that—we are told that there are between 800 and 1,000 orders in relation to the EUWB. I do not know how many of them might be here—63 existing trade treaties, maybe more, and other things as well. That is the difficulty.
What are the defects? The defects are that we have an alternative procedure of super-affirmative if we need extra time to look at something—that is where the sift comes in. If the sift identifies a particular order as being important, it might then get better scrutiny, and better scrutiny might mean the affirmative resolution procedure on a super-affirmative basis. We do not know that the sift applies to these orders because the sift is not mentioned in this Bill. Will it be? Are you going to propose amendments? Is the Government going to take that forward to this Bill? That is another story for another day perhaps.
Then there is the issue—I think it is in one of the Hansard Society papers—of the difficulty, in fact the incapability, of amending these orders. They have to be taken back by the Minister and re-presented. That induces time and delay, and we are running out time and inducing delay.
Q I want to come back on that. What you all say is that there are elements of truth in everything, but the reality is, yes, we have a huge amount to get through, and there is a place for the SI process to get some of these through quickly. My point to you is that, although there is a huge amount made of these so-called Henry VIII powers, this Parliament does actually have overall scrutiny control of these trade Bills if we choose to take it.
That is true, but the ultimate test is overturning the order. We saw that the last time an order was overturned in the other place—it resulted in the Strathclyde review because it was such an outrage, so we have to be careful about that, because it may have more political impact than we would imagine.
Because the roll-over is not straightforward. Maybe you can say that this is an implicit recognition that it is not entirely straightforward and that there will have to be changes. Some might be purely technical, but some are clearly going to be substantive.
It is precisely because it is difficult, contentious and requires negotiations, that the Henry VIII powers are so important, because it is the Minister, their designated authority or delegate who will make those decisions.
I am not sure I have much to add to that very complete answer to the question.
Does it require Henry VIII powers? It probably does require them because you have to amend primary legislation. The questions about the degree of scrutiny and so on, are, I think, questions for you, but the need for a pretty fast procedure to amend our law to deal with what will quite often be technical points that involve changes seems fairly clear.