International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has yesterday laid the UK-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) before Parliament, triggering a period of scrutiny under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.
This marks the formal process for Parliamentarians to ratify the deal. However, this action has caught the ire of the International Trade Committee (ITC – a Parliamentary Committee) who are not too pleased as they had been given assurances that the Government would not do this until the Committee had fully scrutinised the document, which they have not yet done.
Now, there is little doubt that this will pass both Chambers. But the question of Parliamentary ratification of trade deals is something worthy of discussion. As an Australian who worked for the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, I know that the Parliamentary ratification of FTAs is normal. Given Australia is a bastion and global leader in agreeing FTAs – MPs were aware of their responsibilities when they came before the House. Most contentiously, the Australia-China FTA was difficult to negotiate and took years to complete. But once it came to the House, proper scrutiny had been complete.
During my time in the UK Parliament, I worked for the Vice-Chair of the ITC and the Committee took an early view that they must produce a report which fully scrutinises the deal ahead of Parliamentary ratification.
As Britain is fully in charge of its trade policy for the first time in 40 years, both the Government and Parliament will have to find new ways to deliver these deals. On the one hand, trade deals will also hinder some sectors and harm others, so surely they need oversight? On the other, the Government has been very clear it feels it needs to move fast to make a reality of its manifesto promises to create a Global, free-trading, Britain.
Looking to the future, as policymakers and public affairs professionals, we stand ready to assist companies looking to reap the benefits of these FTAs. One of the benefits of the UK-Australia FTA will be the increase in Agricultural trade and helping producers navigate new markets will be crucial to its success.
But I think we can agree that the real benefit will be the ability to purchase a cheaper pair of RM Williams boots, which Michael Gove and David Cameron seem to like.
Kieran Bergholcs | Account Director