The UK Government has announced its intention to set up a new Ministerial Forum to ensure the devolved nations have a say in trade policy development.
The plans to include Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in discussions on post-Brexit trade agreements have been outlined in a Department for International Trade (DIT) report.
Governments in the devolved nations are keen to be involved in the development of trade policy because their positions on issues such as the cultivation of GM crops – restricted in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – may be affected by future trade agreements.
At the moment, the official forum for devolved issues to be debated is the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC), but it has been criticised for its limitations since the EU referendum, including the fact that only the UK Government has the power to convene it.
The DIT report said: “[The Ministerial Forum] will ensure there is a regular and formal structure to support discussion and engagement between the UK Government and the devolved administrations on trade agreements.
“Our clear intention is the Forum will be a flexible mechanism to enable Ministerial discussion at the key points during trade negotiations.
“There will also continue to be a programme of official-level technical engagement between DIT and the devolved administrations to underpin the Ministerial Forum.”
No formal process was set out for how the devolved legislatures, such as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, would be included in trade policy development.
The report did, however, say select committees would play a key role in the scrutiny of trade agreements – even suggesting new committees may be set up to carry out the job.
Neil Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee, told Farmers Guardian he would want to play a key role.
“With every trade deal, we will I suspect call an inquiry of the select committee, and I would expect full co-operation from the Government,” he said.
“The world will move quite quickly once we get, or if we get, a deal with the EU over the line, so we need to be ready for this.”
The Government also pledged to consult on future trade policy by setting up a Strategic Trade Advisory Group (STAG) made up of representatives from business, trade unions, consumer groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Expert trade advisory groups (ETAGs) to advise on sector-specific issues will sit alongside the STAG.
As well as consulting on policy, the Government has committed to certain transparency measures to keep Parliament and the public informed of progress on trade talks.
These include publishing an ‘Outline Approach’ at the beginning of any new trade negotiation, accompanied by an economic analysis of the proposed agreement.
This analysis will look at the potential impact of the agreement on individual sectors of the economy and different UK nations and English regions.
Further documents will be published following each round of substantive talks and at the end of negotiations.