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UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement: Transparency and Scrutiny

Volume 682: debated on Monday 12 October 2020

I am setting out transparency and scrutiny arrangements for international trade deals starting with the UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement (UK-Japan CEPA) which will be signed shortly.

At the outset of negotiations, the Government published their objectives for this agreement, along with a scoping assessment. During the consultation period, we have discussed progress with trusted advisers across industry, including with stakeholders in farming. This sector has been involved throughout, to ensure that nothing we agree undermines our farmers’ ability to compete internationally while producing food at a high standard. The Government have also established a Trade and Agriculture Commission to advise on future trade policy. This will look at policy for our trade agreements and our work to improve the world’s trade rules, making sure they work for British business and consumers.

We will share future trade agreements with the International Trade Committee in the House of Commons and the International Agreements Sub-Committee in the House of Lords, in advance of being laid in Parliament through the process set out under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRaG). Today we are doing this for the UK-Japan CEPA.

We will always endeavour to make sure the Committees have at least ten sitting days to read through these on a confidential basis, as we are doing for this deal. We are also sharing a full impact assessment which covers the economic impacts along with the social, environmental, and animal welfare aspects of the deal. This impact assessment has been independently scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee.

At the end of negotiations, this Government are committed to ensuring the final agreement text, alongside an explanatory memorandum, is laid in Parliament under the CRaG scrutiny procedure for 21 sitting days. This will ensure the House has sufficient time to scrutinise the detail of any deal.

This overall approach goes well beyond many comparable parliamentary democracies. Parliament has been provided with the information it needs to provide effective scrutiny at all stages of the negotiations. We are also working constructively with the Select Committees referred to above, who may choose to produce independent reports on the agreement.

Widespread prior consultation and the publication of detailed impact assessments and objectives up front, allows informed debate at the start of the negotiations. Extensive stakeholder engagement on the detail of the negotiations as they proceed, and confidential briefing of relevant committees, means we have taken best practice at every stage from comparable democratic systems. Combined with the confidential sharing of text at the end of negotiations, this is a best in class approach to transparency and openness to scrutiny by Parliament and other stakeholders, compared with such countries.

For example, before any of our negotiations with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand commenced, this Government led a comprehensive public consultation or call for input. Like Canadian, Australian and New Zealand systems, we have kept Parliament updated on negotiations as they progress, including close engagement with relevant Select Committees.

These arrangements are appropriate to the UK’s constitutional make-up and separation of powers. Ultimately, if Parliament is not content with a trade deal, it can raise concerns by resolving against ratification and delay any implementing legislation indefinitely.

This Government are committed to ensuring that no trade deal undermines key industries or lowers standards for consumers. We are concluding free trade agreements that benefit all parts of the UK, by creating opportunities for our world-leading industries and maintaining high standards, while increasing choice for consumers.