Examination of Witnesses

Part of Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:02 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Professor Winters:

In general, the Bill is trying to do sensible things in a basically sensible way. The issues that arise are about whether or not it is drafted in a way that would allow it to be used for things beyond these intentions.

For instance, it says that the Government do not expect to make major changes with this Bill, yet the procedures that it will set up might allow a Government that wished to do so to make really quite dramatic changes through secondary legislation. As we know, and you know better than me, secondary legislation is not typically challenged. For instance, under the GPA—the agreement on government procurement—if I understand it correctly, the Government have the power to make changes in the coverage of the agreement. A lot of that is about new members, which seems sensible, but if I understand it correctly, it also seems to be about the coverage of sectors within the UK.

When we deal with non-tariff provisions in the trade continuity agreements, for instance, the mutual recognition agreements are very serious bits of trade policy, particularly for services sectors. I think a non-tariff provision would include things like sanitary and phytosanitary regulations and technical barriers to trade. These are mostly governed by EU law at the moment, and in implementing a trade agreement, the Government could change a number of them. Rather than having to bring them back to the legislature as primary legislation, they would actually be able to move through a secondary legislation process, so I think there needs to be a little more attention on the potential spread of the use of this. The Bill can also be extended indefinitely in five-year periods. That seems to me to be not in the spirit of the Bill, which is about cleaning up.

Let me make one last point. The Bill is obviously designed, in terms of trade agreements, to deal with the continuity trade agreements, but there are at least two cases that, so far as I can see, will fall under the Bill and will really go further than just tidying up the details so that trade can continue. The first is UK-Korea. Korea and the UK have signed a continuity trade agreement, but with a commitment to renegotiate a fuller and more ambitious free trade agreement within two years. So far as I can tell, any of that would essentially be covered under this Trade Bill. Similarly with Japan, we do not really know what the Government intend to discuss with the Japanese Government, but the analysis that we got last month was—what shall we say?—studiously unspecific. Essentially, it reads as if it is going to be basically a new agreement; in a sense, the table is blank, and stuff will be put on or taken off. However, so far as I can tell, because Japan had an agreement with the EU on 31 January, it will be covered by the Trade Bill. Korea and Japan are two major trading partners, and this might not get very much scrutiny, essentially because you can undertake quite major changes under the heading of the Bill, which I interpreted largely as a tidying-up Bill.