Skip to main content

Scottish Government must have a guaranteed role in future trade negotiations

11 March 2019

The Scottish Affairs Committee publishes its report on Scotland, Trade and Brexit, outlining the need for the devolved administrations to be closely involved in each stage of negotiating UK trade deals, including having a seat at the negotiating table to ensure the distinct priorities of Scottish trade are represented.

Committee recommendations

In the report, which follows an in-depth inquiry with evidence sessions hearing from academics, international trade experts, Scottish businesses, and UK and Scottish Government Ministers, the Committee recommends that UK trade deals should be contingent on the close involvement of the Scottish government, to ensure that trade agreements work for the whole of the UK. The report outlines mechanisms for involving the devolved administrations in trade negotiations as well as setting out Scottish priorities for future UK trade policy. Specifically, the Committee urges the UK Government to:

  • Explore the option of establishing an international trade sub-committee at the Joint Ministerial Council to ensure devolved administrations have a role in setting UK trade mandates; 
  • Commit to including representatives from the devolved administrations in the UK negotiating team for future trade agreements, with the understanding that devolved ministers will not deviate from the UK Government negotiating position;
  • Ensure that no new barriers to trade are created between Scotland and the rest of the UK;
  • Ensure that sectors of vital importance to the Scottish economy such as the food, drink & fisheries sectors are not traded away to secure preferential agreements for other industries;
  • Provide a rationale, and business consultation period, before any decisions to diverge from EU standards are made;
  • Maintain Scotland's reputation for high quality produce by bringing forward legislation to establish a domestic scheme for Geographical Indicators (GIs), which are crucially important in protecting the provenance and quality of iconic Scottish products such as Scotch whisky.
  • Ensure that protection for Scottish GIs are a red line for the UK in all its future trade negotiations.
  • Provide certainty to the Scottish services sector by establishing a clear and stable equivalence system with the EU;
  • Outline how it will support Scottish industries who rely on trade agreements that the Government has acknowledged will not be rolled-over by 29 March;
  • Work together with the Scottish Government to ensure UK and Scottish trade promotion activities complement, rather than duplicate, each other;

Chair's comments

Commenting on the publication of the report, Chair of the Committee Pete Wishart MP said:

“The Government has the immense task of setting a precedent for all future international trade talks post-Brexit. My Committee heard evidence that Scotland needs a place at the negotiating table if UK trade deals are to stand a chance of benefitting the whole of the UK."

Scotland's role in future trade talks 

Under the devolution settlement, international trade is reserved to the UK Government, however the Scottish Government is responsible for economic development and the implementation of international obligations. The Committee argues that Scotland, along with the other devolved administrations, must have a key role in the formulation, negotiation, agreement and implementation of future trading arrangements.

To facilitate this, the Committee recommends that the Government explore the option of establishing a fully-resourced international trade sub-committee at the Joint Ministerial Committee to facilitate regular dialogue with the devolved administrations, and include devolved representatives in the UK negotiating team, with the understanding that they will not deviate from the UK Government negotiating position.

A UK-wide trade policy

Scotland has a proud history as a trading nation and its exports are worth around a third of Scotland's GDP. In 2017, total exports from Scotland (excluding oil and gas) were estimated to have been worth £81.4 billion to the Scottish economy, of which £32.4 billion were international. Scotland is globally recognised for producing high quality products such as Scotch Whisky and Scottish Salmon.

The Committee's report supports the Government's commitment to a UK-wide trade policy that reflects the priorities of all nations in the UK. However, the Committee urges the Government to ensure that sectors of vital importance to the Scottish economy; such as the food, drink & fisheries sectors are not traded away to secure preferential agreements for other industries. The report also argues that these sectors have benefited immensely from membership of the EU Single Market and recommends that the Government consults with business before any decisions to diverge from EU trading standards are made.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Committee, Pete Wishart MP, said:

“Scotland's food and drink and services sectors have benefitted enormously from the single-market, and the same benefits must be secured for the future. These industries cannot be allowed to become an afterthought in tense trade talks. The opportunities from boosting Scottish exports should be front and centre of UK trade policy and strategy.”

Maintaining high standards:  Protecting Scotland's Geographical Indicators

The Government has committed to maintaining high quality and high standards in future trade policy, a reputation which underpins Scotland's export market. Many of Scotland's key exports – such as Scotch Whisky, Scotch Beef and Stornoway Black Pudding – are currently protected against illegal imitation through Geographical Indicators (GIs). The Committee is concerned that the UK is still yet to implement a domestic scheme of GIs and urges the Government to introduce the necessary legislation as soon as possible.

The Committee also emphasises the importance of negotiating a mutual recognition agreement with the EU which maintains protection for Scottish GIs throughout the EU. Providing robust protection for GIs should be a red line for the UK in all its future trade negotiations.

Chair of the Committee, Pete Wishart MP, said:

 “Scottish Salmon and Scotch Whisky, to name only a few of Scotland's iconic exports, are internationally renowned for their high quality. Their reputation must not be undermined by the Government's last-minute approach to Brexit. The Government must introduce legislation to protect Scottish products from imitation from Day 1 after the UK leaves the EU.”

Supporting Scottish businesses

The Committee expresses disappointment that some existing trade agreements Scotland benefits from will not be rolled over by the time the UK leaves the EU. The UK Government has indicated that some key free trade agreements, such as those with Japan, Turkey, Algeria and Andorra and San Marino may not be rolled over in time for 29 March. The report urges the UK Government to outline how it intends to support Scottish industries that rely on these trade agreements.

Chair of the Committee, Pete Wishart MP, said:

“The Government should start building a UK wide trade strategy predicated on transparency and support for the devolved administrations by setting out how it will support Scottish industries that rely on free trade agreements that are still yet to be rolled over. The Government cannot leave Scottish businesses in the dark.”

Further information

Image: iStockphoto