A former Assistant Director at the Department for International Trade sounds the alarmby David Henig / May 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
It was easy to miss among the continuing dreary and slightly surreal chatter of customs solutions and Northern Ireland, but we recently saw something perhaps unprecedented in the history of UK trade policy. For the first time ever business groups, trade unions, and various interested NGOs came together to agree on something.
This wasn’t the usual pro-trade agreement position that you could expect from the likes of the CBI, IoD, and often the consumer organisation Which. Nor was it the scepticism about trade agreements and a demand for more equitable provisions you’d normally associate with trade unions or the Trade Justice Movement. We can expect such a division to come back to this soon if the UK does regain full control over our trade policy.
The subject on which all these organisations could agree was, rightly, “a stronger emphasis on consensus building and accountability” in UK trade policy. A document, “A Trade Governance Model That Works for Everyone” was the output, suggesting what the UK government needs to do to make this happen. The central point is to ensure stakeholders are left “feeling their contributions are really heard and fully considered…”
What lies behind this document, if not explicitly stated, is widespread disaffection with the way the UK government, and particularly the Departments for Exiting the European Union and International Trade, are consulting, or failing to consult, stakeholders. I speak to a lot of UK trade policy stakeholders, and it does not take long for them to voluntarily raise this as their main gripe. They simply don’t feel the government cares what they have to say, and they are starting to get suspicious that whatever is being said by UK politicians and officials to other countries does not reflect their interests.
If this carries on the UK’s entire trade policy agenda is in jeopardy. To understand why, let us recall the story of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the legendary TTIP, how it nearly brought down at least two other trade agreements, and in particular the role of the EU Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, who oversaw the start of talks.
TTIP talks started, as most trade talks do, in a blaze of optimism in June 2013. It was going to be finished in “one tank of gas”…