Democracy and transparency in the UK trade bill

READING TIME 15 mins
Democracy and transparency in the UK trade bill

Democracy and transparency in trade matters to us all

There are two facts that everyone should know about the UK’s trade policy as we prepare to leave the EU. The first is that modern trade agreements have a huge impact – for good and for bad – on many areas of life including jobs, the environment, health, development, food and inequality.

The second is that under current rules, the UK government has unchecked powers to negotiate and sign trade agreements.

The government has the power to: decide who to start negotiations with; set its own priorities and objectives for these negotiations; conduct negotiations, often in secret; and conclude and sign the eventual deal.

There are no procedures in place to ensure trade negotiations are accountable to Parliament or the public. Incredibly, MPs have no powers to scrutinise ongoing negotiations and provide direction. The public has no right of input or to know what is being done. Parliament is eventually asked to ratify the agreed final deal, but in practice the procedure is a nominal one and MPs are not even guaranteed a vote on whether to approve or reject trade deals.

The UK has not been responsible for trade policy for 40 years, so it is understandable that our procedure for negotiating and ratifying trade agreements needs some reform. Yet, to date, the government has not taken steps to update this procedure.

In November 2017, the government introduced a Trade Bill to enable its independent trade policy after Brexit. This is a key piece of legislation and provided a clear opportunity for the government to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and democracy in trade policy. However, at present the Bill lacks any provision to make trade policy accountable to Parliament.

What is TJM calling for?

TJM is calling for:

1. The right of parliament to set a thorough mandate to govern each trade negotiation, with a remit for the devolved administrations

2. The right of the public to be consulted as part of setting that mandate

3. Full transparency in negotiations

4. The right of parliament to amend and to reject trade deals, with full debates and scrutiny guaranteed and a remit for the devolved administrations

5. The right of parliament to review trade deals and withdraw from them in a timely manner

Take action

Take action for trade democracy by supporting TJM's members and partners actions:

Global Citizen

Global Justice Now

SumOfUs

Traidcraft

38 Degrees

War on Want

Support our call

For information on the need for democratic accountability in trade policy and to get involved, please write to mail [at] tjm.org.uk

Reports and Briefings

A Trade Model That Works for Everyone

A joint business, union and NGO framework to ensure the UK’s trade policy is more inclusive, transparent and democratic and benefits all sta...
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TJM submission to the International Trade Committee inquiry into UK Trade Policy Transparency and Scrutiny

Trade Justice Movement submission outlining the provisions required in a transparent and democratic procedure for developing trade agreement...
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The Trade Bill: Constitutional Implications and Recommendations

This briefing identifies the constitutional implications of the Trade Bill and makes recommendations for amendments
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Securing democracy in UK trade policy - Developing a transparent and democratic approach to trade agreements

A report outlining the reform required to establish a transparent and democratic procedure for negotiating and ratifying trade agreements in...
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Submission to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee on the Trade Bill

A submission calling for the Trade Bill to be amended to include essential transparency and scrutiny provisions
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Fairtrade Foundation Briefing – Trade & Customs Bills, 2nd Reading

Fairtrade Foundation Briefing on the Trade and Customs Bills
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Why MPs must act now or risk threat to parliamentary sovereignty

Global Justice Now parliamentary briefing on the Trade Bill
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Briefing for MPs for second reading of the Trade Bill, 9 January 2018

Greener UK briefing on the Trade Bill
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Briefing on International Development issues for the Trade Bill 2nd reading

Traidcraft briefing on International Development issues for the Trade Bill 2nd reading
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Briefing on International Development issues for the customs bill 2nd reading

Traidcraft Briefing on the Taxation (Cross-border trade) Bill, also known as the Customs Bill.
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Feedback from the Trade Justice Movement on the white paper "Preparing for our future UK trade policy"

Response from TJM to the UK government's proposals on trade policy
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No more secret trade deals: the urgent need for transparency and democracy in UK trade deals

War on Want briefing on the urgent need for trade democracy in the UK
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Giving away control? How Brexit will make UK trade deals less democratic and what to do about it

Global Justice Now briefing on trade democracy
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Back to Basics: Trade Agreements

Class briefing on the impacts of trade agreements
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Democratising UK Trade Post-Brexit

Democracy and transparency in UK trade policy matter to us all
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Parliament's role in ratifying treaties

A House of Commons briefing outlining the limited influence that Parliament has in composing and ratifying treaties
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