Digital trade and data Contents


98.On Government consultation related to digital trade, the Committee’s report on CEPA states:

It has been pointed out to us in evidence that consultation by the Government on its digital trade policy has been limited. Only business interests are represented on DIT’s Telecoms and technology Trade Advisory Group, and other stakeholders, such as consumer groups, trade unions and policy experts, have had limited opportunities to put their views forward.180

99.We heard a range of views from stakeholders concerning the Government’s consultation mechanisms in this area. In oral evidence, Diana Avila of TransferWise stated “[we] feel overall that the Government are eager to hear our needs, but at the moment we are not part of any of” DIT’s Trade Advisory Groups (TAGs).181 Sue Davies MBE of Which? stated that it was “pleased the Government have stepped up some of the ways they are engaging with civil society”, citing the establishment of the Strategic Trade Advisory Group (STAG).182 Ms Davies also praised DIT for assisting in Which?’s national trade conversation, a consultation event.183

100.Other stakeholders were less positive, with criticisms of both the breadth and depth of stakeholder consultation. Dr Emily Jones, Beatriz Kira, and Danilo B. Garrido Alves described “detailed, in-depth consultation” in this area as “limited”, noting that DIT’s telecoms and technology TAG is comprised exclusively of business representatives.184 Jim Killock, representing the Open Rights Group—a rights advocacy organisation—described its experience as follows:

I think civil society has noticed a shift. We were at very high-level meetings about a year or a year and a half ago. That stopped once trade agreements started to get into an active phase and, from what we can see, the inside game around trade agreements is very much limited to industry partners for the most part. We are getting some updates and there is a general level of engagement.185

UNISON expressed concern over a lack of consultation in relation to negotiations undertaken through the WTO, stating that insufficient consultation limits the UK’s ability to adopt a “future proofed and sustainable” digital trade strategy which will serve the public’s best interest.186

101.We also heard that the extent of consultations could be improved from stakeholders who have a place on the TAG or STAG. Sue Davies MBE, a member of the STAG, stated that “it is very difficult to know what is happening during the process of negotiations other than very high-level discussions at certain periods of time and then seeing the result at the end and scrutinising at that stage.” She called for a better mechanism to try to discuss what is happening within the digital trade chapter, or other chapters, on a confidential basis during the negotiations.”187 techUK has representatives on both the STAG and TAG. Sabina Ciofu, who gave oral evidence on behalf of techUK, described the consultations as “unidirectional”, comprising of “more an update after negotiating rounds of what has been happening”. Ms Ciofu suggested that a range of stakeholders—including consumers, civil society groups, and industry—ought to be included in consultations to prevent negotiation outcomes from being “complete surprise to any stakeholder in society.”188

102.The Minister of State for Trade Policy told us that DIT has its Strategy Trade Advisory Group and a relevant Trade Advisory Group which, in addition to the Department’s Trade Union Advisory Group, have “worked very well so far.”189 The Minister of State for Media and Data highlighted the series of roundtables and one-to-one consultations with stakeholders including technology companies and privacy campaign groups undertaken when DCMS was producing its National Data Strategy. He emphasised the importance of continuing to “maintain a dialogue” with stakeholders”.190

103.Consultation was identified as an area for improvement in our report on CEPA. While the Government has engaged in consultation exercises and supported consultations undertaken by Which?, the Government’s consultation in this area still requires improvement. We heard evidence suggesting that consultation with civil society organisations, such as civil liberties organisations, could be improved, though we note that the Government has consulted civil liberties organisations as a part of its National Data Strategy. We recommend that the Government includes representatives from civil liberties organisations in its ETAG, or otherwise creates a mechanism to consult with them.

104.While other stakeholders were largely positive about the Government’s consultation mechanisms, they stressed the importance of consultation to be a dialogue rather than one-sided. As such, we recommend that the Government consults with stakeholders throughout ongoing negotiations, sharing working texts in confidence where possible and engaging with feedback on those texts.

180 House of Commons International Trade Committee, Second Report of Session 2019–21, UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, HC 914, para 39

184 Dr. Emily Jones, Beatriz Kira, Danilo B. Garrido Alves (DTD0021)

186 UNISON (DTD0023)

Published: 28 June 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement