Scrutiny of international agreements: UK-Australia free trade agreement Contents

Chapter 9: Looking ahead

A trade policy is needed

162.The Government has yet to publish a comprehensive trade policy. Although the Government has articulated its aims and objectives for individual negotiations, these are not embedded within a wider framework, which should set out the Government’s priorities for all trade negotiations and how trade can be leveraged to support the Government’s external and domestic policy objectives, including on the environment, climate, levelling up and human rights.

163.A published trade policy would also help those scrutinising trade agreements understand the framework within which negotiators are operating and why specific choices are being made. At present, it is unclear how the Government is seeking to balance the competing interests of different sectors and areas across the UK, or how its trade objectives fit into its security, defence, environmental, domestic or development agendas.

Monitoring and evaluation

164.Monitoring and evaluating the impact of the agreement is essential if the Government is to learn lessons for future trade agreements, inform policy-making and enable mitigation measures to be developed.

165.This is vital because predicting the precise impact of trade agreements is notoriously difficult. Our report has identified several instances where the impact cannot be measured with a degree of certainty until implemented. These have included:

166.Monitoring is key to ensuring that the predicted benefits of an FTA actually materialise, are maximised for businesses and consumers, and any unintended negative consequences are addressed promptly.

167.The Government has committed to evaluating the impact of the agreement, and publishing two types of report:161

(1)a monitoring report—to be published roughly every two years after entry into force, focused on trade flows and the work of the governance committees to facilitate co-operation

(2)a comprehensive evaluation report—to be produced within five years of the agreement entering into force to show where the agreement has worked well and where it has worked less well, including suggestions for improvement. This report will seek stakeholder feedback and include findings obtained through monitoring.

168.Lord Grimstone told us that although his department would not be providing a running commentary on its monitoring work, it would “if the monitoring produced things which were of material importance, … communicate that in one way or the other to the committee”. He also undertook to update the committee following any regular review sessions.162

169.We welcome the Government’s commitment to monitoring and evaluation and call on it to keep us (and the International Trade Committee in the Commons) informed on progress and outcomes, and make any reports available to Parliament by depositing copies in the libraries of both Houses.

170.The UK-Australia trade agreement is the first ‘new’ trade agreement where the UK is not simply replicating the trade arrangements we had as part of the EU, making it an important indicator of its post-Brexit trade policy.

171.However, it is regrettable that the agreement cannot be placed within the context of a published trade policy. We ask the Government to publish a comprehensive trade policy before it signs another trade agreement with a major economy. This will enable trade policy to be understood in relation to other policy priorities, to see how Government assesses the impacts and trade-offs of trade liberalisation, to set the Negotiating Objectives in context, and to inform public consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny.

162 Oral evidence taken on 27 April 2022, (Session 2021–22) Q 26 (Lord Grimstone of Boscobel)

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