Examination of Witnesses

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

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George Riddell:

Thank you; it is a pleasure to be here. I would characterise the Bill as creating the baseline of the UK’s trade policy. It tries to continue the basic trading conditions for rest-of-world trade that UK business currently enjoys.

That includes the continuity agreements. A lot of people, when commenting on those agreements, go straight to the tariffs: “If you don’t have a continuity agreement, you’ll face tariffs; if you do, it will continue as it currently is.” For the services sector, which I represent, there are also important establishment provisions within the services trade chapters of those agreements and mobility provisions that allow business travellers to travel between the UK and those third countries to supply services. The discussion about the continuity agreements and ensuring that the UK is able to continue to trade past 31 December this year is therefore wider.

The same goes for the government procurement agreement. The UK has enjoyed the status of the government procurement agreement at the WTO since its creation in 1995, although its membership of that particular agreement came through the European Union.

I will pick up two points that Professor Winters talked about. First, yes, new members join the GPA on a fairly regular basis. There are a number of ongoing accessions to the agreement, some with shorter timeframes than others. It is right that there is provision for the agreement to expand, as it naturally does, at the WTO. The other point is about the coverage and the entities. The UK list of covered entities is rather out of date. Many current Government Departments are not listed as part of coverage under the GPA, so the list is very outdated. Therefore, even if the thresholds the UK has signed up to as part of the GPA are not changed, there is a need for a technical update of the UK’s commitment to reflect the current machinery of government.

We are also establishing the TRA and bringing back powers from the Commission in Brussels to establish a trade remedies regime here in the UK. On the statistics front, which is very important in making trade policy, I would flag the interest in improving the trade in services statistics for the UK. Trade in services statistics are notoriously unreliable, and powers in the Bill could be used to make the UK a leader in how we measure services trade in this country and globally.