On Monday, techUK launched its new report Dealing with the Deals: Existing EU international agreements and the tech sector. The report highlights that urgent decisions are needed on hundreds of different EU agreements post-Brexit. Many of these, such as Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), science and technology agreements and World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements, are important to the UK’s thriving tech sector.
While Brexit requires a fundamental redesign of the relationship between the UK and the EU, it is important to remember that it also requires a redesign of our current relations with the rest of the world.
For many agreements, such as the trade deals with Canada and South Korea and science and technology agreements, continuity will be important for the sector. However, for some trade agreements there is scope for greater ambition – such as incorporating services and procurement into a new deal with Israel, a country with a complimentary high-tech economy.
At an event in Parliament, techUK held a panel discussion to launch the report with Vicky Ford MP, member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Stephen Timms MP, member of the Exiting the European Union Committee and Tim Durrant, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Government, chaired by Giles Derrington, techUK Head of Policy for Brexit, International and Economics.
The panellists all stressed the ongoing importance of these deals. Vicky Ford highlighted how science and technology agreements are ‘extremely important’ for the UK’s international partners. These agreements are something that other countries really value. With tech being a sector that particularly depends on innovation and cutting-edge research, these agreements are an important means of promoting cross-border collaboration.
For Stephen Timms, the UK faces a clear choice between ‘alignment with or estrangement from’ the EU. For him there are clear economic consequences of each and the Government needs to base their decisions on realism, as they have done by committing to aligning with European data protection rules. For more on the importance of this, see techUK’s report No Interruptions: Options for the future UK-EU data-sharing relationship.
The act of rolling over these trade agreements will involve making some tough choices. Issues like rules of origin and cumulation are going to involve negotiating with the EU as well as the other third-country signatory. At the launch, Vicky Ford echoed techUK’s call for clarity around how the Government intends to approach this, as well as stating her expectation that Parliament will be able to make sure there is scrutiny over any changes to the UK’s relationship with existing EU trade deals.
The legislative aspect of rolling over these important deals was stressed by Tim Durrant. When turning existing EU agreements into permanent UK deals post-Brexit, each partner will need to subject them to their own processes of scrutiny and ratification. This could even be the case to enable the existing EU agreements to still apply to the UK during the implementation period. If the UK does face a cliff edge in its trading relationships with these third countries, it is crucial that businesses know of this possibility, so they can plan accordingly.
Through the EU, the UK is party to over 750 international agreements. All of these will need proactive decisions to be made about whether to roll them over, renegotiate them or let them lapse. Dealing with the Deals and our launch event emphasised how important some of these are for the UK tech sector, but also where greater ambition is possible. While the UK Government has made clear its ambitions to negotiate new trade deals post-Brexit, one thing is completely clear – it needs to ensure that it deals with the existing deals first.