IOE and IT chief says dissolution of International Trade Committee is 'worrying'

Thu 30 Mar 2023
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Features

View of facade of Palace of Westminster

The head of the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) has expressed concern about the dissolution of the International Trade Committee.

Politico reported last week that the committee is being disbanded, with trade issues to be scrutinised via the reformulated Business and Trade Committee instead.

This follows the merger of the Department for International Trade (DIT) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) into the new Department for Business Trade (DBT), that took place in the last cabinet reshuffle.

Kemi Badenoch, who has taken on the leadership of DBT, having previously headed DIT, is said to have “despaired” at the dissolution of the trade committee.

‘Worrying’

Marco Forgione, the director general of the IOE&IT, said the news was “worrying”, noting concerns that trade policy might be facing a downgrade in “parliamentary profile”.

He said:

“It is worrying that the International Trade Committee will shortly be dissolved and its work subsumed into a reformulated Business and Trade Committee.
 
“Whilst I understand the rationale behind reflecting the restructure of the government departments in the corresponding parliamentary committees, I am concerned that this merger of the two committees marks a downgrading for the parliamentary profile of international trade as well as watering down the scrutiny of trade policy.
 
“Last year there were concerns about the lack of parliamentary scrutiny of the Australia & New Zealand trade deals. The International Trade Committee also has a number of important ongoing inquiries which are of interest to our members and the wider business community, including export opportunities, UK trade sanctions on Russia, trade and the environment.
 
“I am writing to the Chair of the new merged Business and Trade Committee to ask him to ensure that trade policy is given equal profile and priority within the committee’s workings and that the committee invites those with detailed international trade expertise to participate in the committee’s activities.”

 

Scrutiny

The now-disbanded International Trade Committee has previously argued that the mechanisms for MPs to scrutinise the UK’s trade deals are not adequate and called for a review of how government engages with parliament both during and after negotiations.

After taking on the government’s trade portfolio when becoming head of what was then the DIT, Badenoch said it was “vital” that parliament had the opportunity to properly scrutinise trade deals.

Anthony Mangnall, an MP who was on the committee, made four key demands of government in a parliamentary debate in October 2022:

  1. A long-term strategy for trade negotiations
  2. A standard level of human rights clauses in the UK’s trade agreements
  3. The International Trade Committee should be given the right to publish a report on a trade deal before the start of the 21-day Constitutional Reform and Governance Act (CRaG) period
  4. A guarantee that a secretary of state would appear before the committee to discuss an agreement ahead of their publication of any report on it

CRaG

Under CraG, parliament is given a role in approving all international treaties including trade agreements.

The government must present a treaty to parliament for 21 sitting days before ratification and provide an explanatory report – without either of these, a deal cannot take effect.