Democratising Trade Policy
Giving UK and EU policymakers the tools to tackle contentious trade politics
Dr Gabriel Siles-Brügge and Dr Ben Richardson set out to explain the contentiousness of international trade politics. Their research has equipped decision makers with the tools to manage fierce debates and respond to the public opposition to trade agreements. Controversy has surrounded important questions about the autonomy for national governments under trade agreements, the political legitimacy of trade agreements, and the link between trade policy and workers’ rights.
Trade policy by the UK and EU is increasingly framed in emotional terms as a potential ‘threat to democracy.’
This is because international trade agreements: a) have traditionally been negotiated behind closed doors; b) can restrict the ability of governments to pass public interest regulation and c) can impact negatively on labour rights. By examining different trade agreements, Dr Siles-Brügge and Dr Richardson’s research has established that trade agreements and their negotiation should be more transparent; that trade agreements should feature provisions that don't unduly restrict public interest regulation; and that trade policy can be used to promote higher labour standards.
Dr Siles-Brügge and Dr Richardson worked with a number of UK and international public bodies and NGOs during the project, including:
The UK House of Commons’ International Trade Committee (ITC)
The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Trade (DG Trade)
The European Parliament
The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).
Members of the Warwick team were involved in co-authoring and otherwise assisting in the production of reports and provided oral and written evidence to inform policymakers. Dr Siles-Brügge also served as the sole Parliamentary Academic Fellow assisting the ITC from 2017 to 2019.
The findings from Dr Siles-Brügge and Dr Richardson’s project have influenced trade policies on a national and a European level. The ITC’s Clerk described the ‘invaluable’ support that Dr Siles-Brügge provided for the newly formed committee’s MPs and staff alike. The ITC’s work went on to influence the Government’s approach to post-Brexit agreements.
Dr Richardson co-authored a 5,000 word report into the effectiveness of labour standards in EU trade deals, many recommendations from which were later incorporated into DG Trade’s ‘Way Forward’ document.
One trade union representative described Dr Richardson’s submissions as "outstanding", and as playing a "catalytic role" in helping civil society organisations to engage with the debate. The European Parliament has also pushed for a tougher stance on workers’ rights. Its resolution on the EU’s trade policy for developing countries echoed Dr Richardson’s recommendations, drawn from a 25,000 word report of which he was the main author.
Dr Siles-Brügge has made a significant difference to the advocacy of the EPHA, helping them ramp up their work on trade policy. An agreement in principle between the EU and South American countries now includes provisions on anti-microbial resistance to help promote public health.