Canada could provide model for trade deals, committee told

Canada could provide a model for involving the devolved governments in any post-Brexit trade negotiations, MPs have been told.

Academics and researchers said it was vital the Scottish and Welsh administrations are at least “heavily consulted” on the UK’s plans to strike deals with the EU and other nations after leaving the bloc next year.

They pointed to the involvement of Canada’s provinces in the negotiations for the Canada European Union Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) as a “sensible way forward”.

The provinces were widely recognised as being integrated into the CETA process, playing a role at the negotiating table despite fears they could have hindered the federal government’s process.

The Scottish Affairs Committee is currently considering how trade in Scotland will be affected by the UK’s departure from the EU, and what influence the devolved administrations should have over future UK trade policy.

Dr Michael Gasiorek, director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, told MPs: “I would argue that there should be a strong element of consultation, that devolved administrations should certainly be involved in the formulation of trade policy.

“Presumably I would argue that they should be at the table when it comes to negotiations or near the table when it comes to negotiations.

“But I wouldn’t go as far as to say if there is an element in some putative future free trade agreement, for example on fisheries, which the Scottish Government was not happy with, that that would give them the… right of veto essentially, to be able to block such a deal.”

Dr Gasiorek said that while Canadian provinces had “no formal role” in the CETA negotiations, “they were brought in as part of the consultation processes”.

“That seems to me to be a sensible way forward,” he added.

Maddy Thirmont-Jack, of the Institute for Government, said: “I think definitely the model for the CETA negotiations is something the UK Government should look at, particularly for areas which are really going to impact on devolved policy areas.”

Ms Thirmont-Jack said it was “really important to include the devolved governments in the negotiation process or at least heavy consultation”.

“If the UK is going to go off and strike new trade deals, you want to be able to make the most of those deals, and actually engaging both businesses and the devolved governments is really, really important, to make sure the devolved governments can support their businesses in actually taking advantage of those new trade deals,” she added.

Scottish and UK ministers are already at odds over the notion of “consent”, following Holyrood’s refusal to back the EU Withdrawal Bill.

The key piece of Brexit legislation was pushed through at Westminster despite MSPs voting against legislative consent amid claims the Bill represented a “power grab”.

MPs also pressed the witnesses on whether consent from – rather than simply consultation with – the devolved administrations should be required on trade policy.

Dr Kirsty Hughes, director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations, said: “I think we don’t have to be quite so scared of this idea of requiring consent and not just consultation.

“I think if Brexit goes ahead there is a very strong argument for having a major look at our constitutional settlement, but I accept that we don’t currently have a federal settlement.