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23 February 2024

Peter Holmes is a Fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory and Emeritus Reader in Economics at the University of Sussex Business School. Sunayana Sasmal is a Research Fellow in International Trade Law at the Observatory.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement system is in crisis. Here, and in a comprehensive working paper, we discuss one potential solution to one of the many issues confronting it. Non liquet is a legal principle that allows a tribunal to decline rendering a ruling when there is no law. We think this concept could partially address the major issue of judicial overreach. But first, some background.

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February 23rd, 2024

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16 February 2024

Michael Gasiorek is Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory and Co-Director of the Centre for Inclusive Trade Policy. He is Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex Business School. Nicolo Tamberi is Research Fellow in Economics at the University of Sussex and Fellow of UKTPO.

HMRC has just published statistics for trade in goods for December 2023, giving us three years of data after the implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) with the EU in 2021. This blog reviews trends in UK trade with the world and the effects of the TCA on UK-EU trade.

There is good and bad news for UK trade in goods. Starting with the bitter pill, the UK’s trade in goods with the world has underperformed compared to other comparable countries over the last few years. Figure 1 shows the exports (panel a) and imports (panel b) of the UK, marked in red, and other OECD countries in blue, together with the series for the OECD total in dark blue. While during the period 2013-16, the UK was in line with the OECD total, the UK’s imports and exports started to slow down since the Brexit referendum in June 2016. For exports, the gap with the OECD total increased substantially with the Covid-19 pandemic. Imputing causation in this setting is not easy; most likely, the Brexit referendum, a slow recovery from the pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU all contributed to the underperformance of UK trade. (more…)

February 15th, 2024

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Share this article: FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailMichael Gasiorek is Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory and Co-Director of the Centre for Inclusive Trade Policy. He is Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex Business School. Justyna A. Robinson is a Reader in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sussex and a Director of Concept Analytics Lab.

In early 2023, the Labour Party launched a National Policy Forum. It comprised a series of public consultations across six core policy areas, with the stated aim of helping the Labour Party to ‘build their policy platform’.  A key part of the consultation process was to invite written submissions on these policy areas. One of the six policy areas was entitled Britain in the World, (to which the UKTPO/CITP also responded), which posed a set of seven questions all of which related to trade and trade policy.

Questions

  1. 1. What is the role of international trade in promoting domestic economic growth, boosting jobs and driving up wages?
  1. 2. How can Labour ensure the UK’s international trade policy promotes growth and investment across the nations and regions of the UK?
  2. 3. How can Labour build resilience into the international trade system and better ensure the security of essential supply chains?
  3. 4. How will a Labour government’s trade policy reduce poverty and global inequality whilst promoting (a) human rights, (b) workers’ rights, (c) fair trade and (d) global peace and security?
  4. 5. How can Labour use trade policy to deliver environmental protection and help drive the world to net zero
  1. 6. What are the specific implications of policy proposals in this area for (a) women,(b) Black, Asian and minority ethnic people (c) LGBT+ people, (d) disabled people and (e) all those with other protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010?7. What consideration would need to be given to policy proposals in this area when collaborating with devolved administrations and local governments in England,Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The consultations were due to lead to a set of policy documents to be agreed in July 2023. With any consultation exercise, including those undertaken by the UK Government on the UK’s Free Trade Agreements, it is hard to know how seriously the consultation is being taken and which if any of the diverse views and responses are being listened to, and how selectively. Consulting with stakeholders and members of the public in the formulation of policy are important if taken seriously, and so consultations such as this are, in principle, welcomed.

So, on the eve of the Labour Party conference, we have analysed all the submitted responses to identify the key issues raised.  There were 310 responses submitted which varied considerably in length. Most submissions were less than 500 words, but some were as long as 10,000 words. It is important to note that the consultation was open to anybody: individuals as well as organisations and companies. The chart below shows that 35% of the submissions were submitted by non-Labour party members (labour guests).[1]

Analysing the data is a challenge because the responses vary enormously in length and scope – with some private individuals submitting short sentences on a couple of issues, to larger organisations and companies submitting lengthy responses. Fortunately, there are tried and tested methods (and smart) software which provide a means for using corpus and natural language processing techniques for the analysis of such textual responses and controlling for different lengths of responses, so that individual lengthy responses do not dominate the analysis.

A key aspect of the analysis is to identify the frequency with which submissions raise particular issues. This is done by comparing the frequency of given words or groups of words in the submissions, relative to the frequency with which those words would appear in ‘normal’ usage. Hence words that appear relatively more frequently are those that prima facie raise issues that the respondents care about. In the jargon, this is called the ‘keyness’ score. We also need to control for the fact that certain terms may appear more frequently in individual responses. So, we want to be able to identify how often an issue is raised but to adjust for those issues being raised frequently in a small number of responses. This is done by producing something called the ‘average reduced frequency’ (ARF).

Consider the chart below. This gives the ARF score for the top 10 identifiable trade issues raised in groups of up to three words[2].  We see that the issue of trade and human rights is the primary concern, on average across the responses. Care has to be taken in interpreting the height of the bars – just because a bar is twice as high does not mean that the issue was perceived as twice as important. Nevertheless, it is clear that human rights were perceived as considerably more important than supply chains and economic growth.

Top issues raised by respondents (ranked byARF)

Relatedly, if one takes the importance of individual words, the word ‘promote’ has a high ARF score. On its own, it is not clear what the respondents want promoting, and so we look at the collocation of words. This identifies that the key objective here was to promote growth, followed by rights, values, trade, and development in order of importance.  Another word with a high individual score was ensure which co-occurs most with security (of supply chains), rights, and access (markets, supply chains), suggesting that these are of high importance for trade policy.

Of course, the frequency of some of these words will have been driven by the specific questions posed by the consultation exercise, as given above, which specifically asked about growth, supply chains and human rights for example. Even so, the rankings are significant as they indicate which of these issues appear of greater concern to respondents.

More depth in the analysis can be obtained by considering the nature of the responses to the individual questions posed. Hence, the responses pertaining to the role of international trade in promoting domestic economic growth, boosting jobs and driving up wages illustrate different perceptions of what trade policy is for. While some responses highlighted the role of trade in boosting productivity, innovation and access to supply chains, as well as emphasising trade with the EU; others focused on the role of trade (deals) in building relationships, soft power, and trust with third-party countries. Additionally, some demonstrated concern for objectives which are not focused on economic growth and economic efficiency such as the regional dimension, worker and human rights, or environmental protection.

With regards to the regional dimension, there is a clear message that international trade, especially services trade as well as ‘green’ trade, could and should be used to reduce regional disparities but that this also requires much more substantial investment in infrastructure and transport networks, as well as policies to mitigate negative impacts if it is to be successful. There was general acceptance of the importance of building more resilience in supply chains with a focus on the need to build trust with partner countries and reorienting supply chains to more trusted countries as well as protecting cyber-security. Interestingly, there was an overlap here with environmental and rights concerns with several respondents calling for more due diligence requirements in supply chains and moving to net-zero supply chains.

Environmental protection and cognate terms such as green technology, carbon emissions, energy, due diligence come up widely in the responses with widespread support for a better environment and net zero, even if it means renegotiating existing deals. Interestingly, the desire to use trade deals to lead to better outcomes in these regards does not pertain just to the UK, but that the trade deals should be used to influence and change practices in partner countries.

The responses highlight the importance of taking into account how trade may negatively impact a range of outcomes, be this with regard to the environment, regions, agriculture and animal welfare, older workers, disabled workers, or women. However, such concerns did not lead to opposition to trade deals, but rather to suggesting that (a) consideration of such impacts should form a (more) explicit element in the evaluation of proposed trade deals; and importantly (b) that there should be much more widespread inclusive consultation processes with affected groups, sectors, and regions in the formulation of trade policy and the negotiation of agreements.

Given the range of questions posed in the consultation exercise, it is perhaps not surprising that there is considerable heterogeneity in the answers. One clear message, however, which emerges is the recognition that trade is good for growth and an important element in raising productivity, but that at the same time, trade policy needs to be value driven. While these are not necessarily mutually exclusive there are trade-offs in trying to meet all the objectives. Hopefully publication of a trade strategy by the Labour Party may provide some insights on their approach to those trade-offs, and maybe the forthcoming conference may also shed some more light.

Footnotes

[1] Categories as defined by the Forum, see bottom of this page for all categories:  https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/commissions/britain-in-the-world

[2] Note that we have excluded here terms that came up but do not, of themselves, shed meaningful light on trade issues, such as ‘UK government’ or ‘Labour Party’

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October 6th, 2023

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7 December 2022

Emily Lydgate, Reader in Environmental Law at University of Sussex and Deputy Director of the UKTPO [1]

Figures from the World Trade Organization suggest that the negotiation of new Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) peaked in 2008, and has since declined.[2] Meanwhile, the Biden Administration has disavowed FTAs. The UK emerged post-Brexit as an enthusiastic advocate, responsible for much of the 2020 outlying peak in WTO FTA notifications. However, even in the UK, the Trade Secretary recently said: ‘I would like us to move away from the DIT being seen as the Department for Free Trade Agreements and back to the Department for International Trade.’

Having created a so-called spaghetti bowl of FTAs, are the wealthy countries that have driven most FTA negotiations[3] finally running out of noodles? (more…)

December 7th, 2022

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Share this article: FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailTrade and Public Policy (TaPP) Network [1]

13 June 2022 [2]

Free trade agreements (FTAs) cover the liberalisation of goods, services, and investment and can have substantial and long-term implications for many areas of public policy, from the environment to public health, from industrial strategy to farming practices. In the UK, parliamentary scrutiny plays an important role in holding the Government to account and ensuring that UK FTAs reflect the public interest, from negotiations to signature, and later, implementation. This blog highlights six ways to further strengthen the process. (more…)

June 13th, 2022

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Share this article: Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail27 January 2022

Michael Gasiorek is Professor of Economics and Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex and Guillermo Larbalestier is Research Assistant in International Trade at the University of Sussex and Fellow of the UKTPO.

The crisis between Ukraine and Russia is deeply concerning – for the people of Ukraine, but also in terms of broader ramifications for world order and stability. NATO’s strategy to avoid direct military action against Russia points at diplomacy and economic sanctions. It is therefore useful to consider the possible role of these in the realm of international trade.

As we show below, Russian trade is highly dependent on the EU and NATO member states. Hence, the scope for the use of such policy is there. This is not an argument, however, for so doing – as that involves complex political trade-offs (which are beyond the scope of this blog). The importance of Russia as a supplier in particular sectors, notably energy, and hence the dependence of the EU and NATO member states on Russia is also a factor in those trade-offs.

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January 27th, 2022

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13 January 2022

Image of Alan WintersL. Alan Winters is Professor of Economics and Founding Director of UK Trade Policy Observatory and Bernard Hoekman is Professor of Global Economics, European University Institute and Fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory

It is widely accepted that international economic relations depend upon a smoothly functioning multilateral trading system. That trading system, institutionally underpinned by the World Trade Organization (WTO), can both stimulate economic activity and help to promote international cooperation in spheres such as climate change and migration. However, the WTO is becoming less relevant to a world in which services account for a growing share of trade, interest in environmental regulation (notably on CO2 emissions) is growing, and digital technology is reshaping our lives.

These issues impinge directly on international trade and thus fall within the broad remit of international rulemaking in the WTO. However, decision making in the WTO typically requires consensus from all the Members, which is difficult to achieve when Members have different ideas about what the appropriate rules for dealing with such challenges are. Thus, not only has it become difficult for countries to agree on how to move forward, but these differences are creating new tensions in the global trading system.

One solution that would help to overcome the impasse is to facilitate those within the WTO who want to change particular rules to proceed among themselves by signing so-called ‘plurilateral’ agreements. The WTO foresees two types of plurilateral agreements, depending on whether what is agreed applies on a discriminatory or non-discriminatory basis. (more…)

January 13th, 2022

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10 December 2021

Image of Alan WintersMichael Gasiorek is Professor of Economics and Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex and L. Alan Winters is Professor of Economics and Founding Director of UKTPO

China acceded to the World Trade Organisation twenty years ago. Yet despite being a member of the international trading club for two decades, China’s ‘role’ in the trading system continues to generate controversy  across a range of areas such as the alleged support to state-owned enterprises boosting their international competitiveness, restrictions on foreign direct investment in China and the ineffective intellectual property protection in China. In addition, and sometimes conflated with trade, there are technology-related security concerns and human rights abuses, notably with regard to the Uyghurs. The Covid-19 pandemic has also raised worries in some quarters about the vulnerability of supply chains, including over-reliance on particular suppliers such as China in critical sectors. (more…)

December 11th, 2021

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Image of Alan Winters8 November 2021

L. Alan Winters is Professor of Economics and Founding Director of the UKTP0 and Guillermo Larbalestier is Research Assistant in International Trade at the University of Sussex and Fellow of the UKTPO.

Key Findings:

  • To date, the UK government has signed no new trade agreements relative to what it would have had as a continuing member of the EU.
  • The Government estimates that the two agreements in principle announced this year (Australia and New Zealand) will increase UK Gross Domestic Product by between £200 and £500 million annually – that is, 0.01% to 0.02% (one to two ten-thousandths) of GDP or between £3 and £7 per head of population – and that only after they have bedded down over 15 years or so .

We were asked to sum up the economic benefits of the UK’s new post-Brexit trade agreements. Our first observation is that if we take as a starting point the trade agreements that the UK would have been party to as a member of the EU, the government has, to date, signed no new trade agreements! (more…)

November 8th, 2021

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Share this article: Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail7 October 2021

Minako Morita-Jaeger is a Policy Research Fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory and a Senior Research Fellow of the University of Sussex Business School. Guillermo Larbalestier is Research Assistant in International Trade at the University of Sussex and Fellow of the UKTPO.

Complex geopolitical landscape

Trade policy concerns, national security and defence are increasingly intertwined in the Indo-Pacific region. This is partly driven by geo-political strategic interests and Sino-US rivalry in the Asia-Pacific region, and partly by the shifting economic balance of power towards the region. China formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on 16 September, one day after Australia, UK and the US announced the creation of the new security partnership: Australia-UK-US (AUKUS). This should also be seen in the context of the Biden administration’s China containment strategy and an absence of US leadership in trade policy since the Trump era due to a greater focus on domestic priorities. China is thus trying to use the CPTPP as a tool in the geo-political power game in the Asia-Pacific region. By joining the CPTPP, China aims to cement its lead in trade and economic cooperation following the successful conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), signed last December though not yet in effect.[1] (more…)

October 7th, 2021

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