Lord JD Waverley, Co-Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group Trade & Export Promotion, says Parliament calls for international engagement and bridge building on UK trade
As the UK fast-approaches the end of the Brexit transition period, its trading future remains uncertain. Businesses across the UK – and those further afield that rely on seamless borders, or on EU policy structures, to do trade with us – are awaiting the verdict on whether the UK will secure a deal with the EU before the end of the year, and avert large scale disruption.
The implications of this decision will be wide-ranging. In the context of today’s globalised environment, trade affects everything; from the availability and price of goods (such as food, pharmaceutical and medical products), to the continuity of our public services – not just in the UK, but also those of our major trading partners.
Though many will be looking at the months ahead with trepidation – not least in the context of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – it should not be forgotten that the UK is now faced with a unique opportunity. The UK government has an opportunity to build back in a way that prioritises agendas of international importance – such as tackling climate change – as well as modernising policy frameworks to suit the contemporary trading environment. Now is the time to take stock on what has not worked on trade in the past, and strive for mutual improvement, as we establish the grounds upon which our future trade relations will be re-built. We have an opportunity to establish solid foundations upon which to develop a greener society, greater economic resilience, more jobs, and to ensure that the benefits of trade are felt by everyone.
Achieving this will demand broad engagement by domestic and international stakeholders. The approach needs to be entirely inclusive in order to holistically tackle the challenges that we face. The UK is an innovative nation, rich in expertise and ideas, and with international networks that span the globe. The vision can be realised if we bring this wealth of expertise together and create a cohesive dialogue covering all aspects of trade.
The first step is establishing a system of trade governance that brings together all voices – those of businesses, consumers, workers, academics, civil society and UK organisations from around the world – and is fully transparent and democratic. Transparency and dialogue are key; all the more now as an independent trading nation outside the European Union.
We still have a way to go in this regard. Trade governance is not yet inclusive enough, with many stakeholders still excluded from the discussion. There also needs to be more alignment between trade policy and our collective priorities, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Furthermore, there are gaps in governance across some key strategic areas – such as trade in services, which makes up 80 per cent of UK trade.
As an independent trading nation, it is essential that we develop an environment that fosters cross-border trade growth and attracts foreign investment; something that can only be achieved by maintaining balanced relations with our trading partners. Trade also needs to be supported by ensuring that exporters and importers can access the trade finance they need, and by developing and maintaining high standards. In short, policy needs to support all aspects of trade.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Trade and Export Promotion was launched for this reason; to unite the voices of all stakeholders in consensus around trade issues and on the UK’s direction of travel in its forthcoming trade negotiations.
Given its mandate, it is only right that the APPG has cross-party representation, as well as representation across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and all nine regions of England. The group also encourages all UK organisations from around the world, together with the overseas organisations that have an operating base in the UK, to participate in the discussion.
Our aim is simple – to bring all ambitions around trade governance, trade promotion, investment and trade finance into an inclusive and fully representative forum that can assist the decision-makers responsible for delivering better outcomes in trade. Parliament can, and will, provide oversight and hold government to account. The newly formed APPG is fully supported by a secretariat run by an organisation that lives and breathes trade; the International Chamber of Commerce.
Sessions begin in earnest in 2021. In the meantime, however, the APPG is probing government on a range of issues, including: reviewing the regulatory framework in the context of tackling the multi-trillion trade finance gap; ensuring that standards and rights are maintained; promoting transparency on the use of development funds to bridge the digital divide between developed and emerging economies; and, not forgetting the ongoing and upcoming trade deals, the EU deal and its effects, which remain at the forefront of everyone’s minds in the coming weeks.
The APPG has also begun a consultation process, for both the core programme and an ambitious outreach programme that covers all regions of the UK, as well as parliamentary counterparts and UK organisations in other countries. There is plenty to consider. A rethink on the role of government and how we strengthen private sector engagement, for example, should be on the table for discussion. The private sector has a major role to play in supporting trade, and one that has not yet been fully explored in the UK. Other G7 countries have set a good example in this regard – there is much to learn from countries like Japan, for instance, that have a highly effective partnership between government and the private sector.
There is much to absorb and to develop, and we would welcome support from both domestic and international stakeholders, and from any political standpoint. The time has now come to cast divisions aside and work together for the common good, not just the UK in isolation but the world at large.
This is not an official article of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.