Brexit and the direction of our trade campaigning

Brexit and the direction of our trade campaigning

Guy Taylor

By: Guy Taylor
Date: 15 July 2016
Campaigns: Trade

14202063481_f40ef3076d_zIt’s impossible to assess the state of play with trade policy and agreements in the UK without using the word ‘uncertainty’ right now. There are claims and counter claims over where we stand regarding the various trade deals the UK is involved in. Much depends on the intentions of those negotiating the terms of our exit from the EU, some depends on what EU leaders are prepared to grant the UK in those talks. All is yet to unfold in front of us.

The fight to stop the toxic trade deal against the EU and the USA has been incredibly successful. TTIP has gone from being an obscure acronym to a fiercely contested struggle between corporate power and the ‘little people’ from across Europe. It’s looking especially shakey right now, and when it topples, it will be in the interests of Brussels’ corporate lobbyists and associated politicians to blame Brexit, but the reality is that it will have been because of the millions of people across Europe who fought hard against it.

We want to keep working alongside all groups and activists and unions who’ve been taking action on TTIP to effectively adapt to the changing circumstances in the fight for trade justice, and this is where we see ourselves going.  It’s probably best to break things down into individual trade deals:

TTIP: the US / EU trade deal

TTIP is currently way behind schedule in terms of negotiation. The plan was to agree the text this year and start the ’legal scrubbing’ process while Obama was still in the White House. Any claim that this is still possible is plainly ridiculous. So the likelihood is that the UK will leave the EU before TTIP is up for ratification.

The proviso here is that in a panic to get an agreement done, they don’t settle for TTIP-lite, jettisoning all manner of content to try to get a deal of sorts done before it becomes impossible.

There is talk that the EU and US could include the UK as a separate partner in TTIP and continue with the deal. The UK would be such a junior partner in this scenario, it might be unacceptable to the governing party, but future governments will be keen to be in trade deals rather than in what they see as the wilderness.

Whichever way things progress, it is certain that the UK voice in influencing the negotiations has been considerably marginalised, and therefore our impact as campaigners has suffered a similar blow. We will continue to monitor the campaign, lending support when and where appropriate, and acting in solidarity with our allies across Europe and in the US who are fighting the deal.

CETA: The Canada / EU version of TTIP

The Canadian government will feel short changed if the UK ceases to be part of the CETA equation. Trade between Canada and the UK far outstrips that between Canada and any other EU country. A campaigner in Brussels likened this to someone buying a four bed house, but getting the keys to a two bed one at the last minute. It does seem likely that all participating parties of CETA will try to keep the UK included in the deal whatever Brexit throws up for them.

The Canadian / EU trade deal has progressed far further than TTIP. We heard in early July the decision of the EU commission to propose CETA as a mixed competency agreement. This means that (for political expediency) the commission are suggesting there is a vote at the European parliament, followed by votes in national parliaments around the EU. This is a welcome development. What’s less welcome is the suggestion that CETA will be provisionally applied after the EU vote and before the national votes, short-circuiting democracy. The European parliamentary vote is currently scheduled for mid-December. Once in the deal is in force, it’s much less likely that outright opposition to it from national parliaments will be successful, and that’s the calculation that the commission has made.

So, almost certainly (unless we somehow win a vote against CETA) the deal will be in force before we leave the EU. There’s a suggestion that if a trade deal is agreed as a mixed agreement, the UK will have signed up to it in a separate capacity as well as doing so purely as a part of the EU. The UK may remain a part of CETA indefinitely.  That’s why in the coming months we’re going to be shifting a lot of our focus and campaign energies to try and prevent CETA from coming into force, but it’s going to be a pretty big challenge! You can find out more about CETA in our briefing.

TiSA (Trade in Services Agreement)

This multi-national deal has over 50 countries participating and although the UK has until now been a part of the EU block in negotiations, we expect the UK to be kept within the deal as a separate entity.

There is a small problem, because the EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström is adamant that the UK cannot negotiate any trade deals on its own terms whilst being a full member of the EU. How the engagement in TiSA takes shape remains to be seen, but we will soon be publishing a briefing on this deal and starting to ramp up the pressure. Watch this space!

Department of International Trade

Theresa May is announcing her new cabinet as I write this blog. Liam Fox has been chosen to lead the re-established Department of International Trade. After decades of effectively outsourcing work on trade policy to the EU, we’re taking it back in house. Now they face the task of recruiting 400+ civil servants for that department. We can foresee a big expansion in the staffing of government departments, and with the leadership they currently have we will need to push hard with allies and supporters to try and influence the shape of bilateral trade deals that the UK starts trying to create.


The European-wide campaign against TTIP, CETA and TiSA are calling for a week of actions in October 17-21, called CETA Week. We will be participating.

Photo: flickr/campact