Trade Bill

Supplementary written evidence submitted by Which? (TB25)

The Trade Bill

House of Commons Trade Bill Committee

Which? is the largest consumer organisation in the UK with more than 1.7 million members and supporters. We operate as an independent, a-political, social enterprise working for all consumers and funded solely by our commercial ventures. We receive no government money, public donations, or other fundraising income. Which?’s mission is to make individuals as powerful as the organisations they have to deal with in their daily lives, by empowering them to make informed decisions and by campaigning to make people’s lives fairer, simpler and safer.

Introduction

1) Which? welcomes the Government’s vision to "build a future trade policy that delivers benefits not only for the UK’s economy, but for businesses, workers and consumers alike". It is critical that consumers, in particular, are central to the Government’s approach on trade. Consumers and consumer confidence are key to the prosperity of the UK and integral to the economy.

2) Every month consumers spend £100 billion in the UK and, in doing so, support UK businesses, manufacturers and employees. Delivering a Brexit which works for consumers will be vital to maintaining this support. This includes ensuring that future trade policy works for consumers, delivers meaningful benefits and ensures that important standards and protections are upheld.

3) Which? wants to secure a future trade policy that works for consumers, delivering meaningful benefits such as more product choice and greater competition, whilst ensuring that important standards and protections are upheld.

Delegated Powers and consumer interest

4) As with the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, the Trade Bill includes enhanced powers for the Secretary of State to make changes to primary legislation in order to implement existing Free Trade Agreements and other international agreements. It is essential that, given the high level of consumer and public interest in trade policy, there are mechanisms for effective public scrutiny and that these powers do not extend beyond narrow technical changes which do not have wider policy significance.

Ensuring a fit for purpose customs regime

5) An integral part of any trade regime is the customs arrangements that accompany it. For consumers it is vital that this regime is effective. This requires the customs process to be as smooth as possible through limiting any potential disruption and additional costs for consumers by ensuring a steady flow of goods across borders to meet consumer demand. However this must also ensure consumers are properly protected.

The Remedies Regime

6) The future remedies regime is a key area to address given this Bill’s role in creating a Trade Remedies Authority (TRA). Which? recognises the need to develop a trade remedies regime and establish a new TRA which will be able to consider the need for remedies objectively, on a case by case basis.

7) In creating the TRA it is important that its governance and operational framework ensures it operates transparently and independently in the public interest. This includes for example a clear duty to advance the interests of consumers and ensure effective consumer representation, including having a consumer interest representative on the Board of the TRA. A requirement to apply the economic interest test as set out in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill is also crucial and this should explicitly require a transparent assessment, modelling and publication of the short and longer-term impacts for consumers.

8) Transparency of decision-making is crucial to ensure it is clear how the interests of domestic producers have been considered alongside consumer and other interests, such as other industrial sectors, and how a decision has ultimately been reached. While legitimate requests for commercial confidentiality should be respected, the presumption should be on disclosure.

Preferential trade with Developing Countries

9) Which? supports the maintenance of a trade preferences scheme that will, as a minimum, provide the same level of access as the current EU trade preference scheme and seek opportunities to support developing countries, while also having the advantage of benefiting consumers through lower prices. As set out above, this must be developed, taking into account the importance of ensuring that standards are not compromised.

January 2018

 

Prepared 30th January 2018