BREXIT: International Trade meetings

Brexit, Special Report

The Department for International Trade (DIT) aims to make Britain “the world’s natural business partner” and it is dedicating copious amounts of ministerial time to hearing from big business about its post-Brexit international trade demands. Of the 318 lobby meetings held by DIT ministers from October 2016 to March 2017, business interests dominated. 90 per cent of meetings held were business lobby meetings. We looked further into who actually attended DIT’s meetings – for instance, if six groups attended a meeting, we counted that as six encounters. Business interests represented an overwhelming 90.5 per cent of all encounters in this period. Of these business interests, most represent big business interests. As a snapshot of the number of meetings particular organisations were able to secure:

  • KPMG – 6
  • HSBC – 8
  • Barclays – 6
  • CityUK – 4
  • BP – 7
  • GlaxoSmithKlein – 5
  • Caterpillar – 5

The Federation of Small Business (FSB) had only two meetings altogether while smaller, local or family businesses were not well-represented in the figures. Yet small or medium sized businesses (SMEs) account for 99.9 per cent of all UK private sector organisations and they employ over 15.7 million people, or 60 per cent of all private sector employment in the UK2. The FSB says3 that one in three (32 per cent) small businesses are involved in overseas trade as an exporter and/or importer, so their interest in the Brexit deal is likely to be high. Yet their access to DIT is minimal Civil society organisations had only five dedicated meetings with DIT out of the 318 total during the period analysed, and represented only 3.9 per cent of all the lobby groups met. The range of civil society represented in these meetings is also very wide – from trade unions to professional associations to think tanks to social justice groups. In fact, some of these groups, like the Adam Smith Institute and the Legatum Institute, are extremely pro-market and probusiness, and would share more in common with organisations in the business category. There is a huge range of interests and perspectives crammed into these few meetings. Overall, the space for vital issues such as climate change, development, consumer protection and workers’ rights to be raised with DIT ministers is drastically limited – only one meeting focussed specifically on such issues.

There were specific meetings for the big business representatives from several sectors. For instance roundtables with the finance, accountancy, and investment sectors reflect active corporate lobbying to defend the City of London’s role as the EU’s centre of Big Finance. Other such meetings include the automotive, private healthcare, mining and high-tech sectors. Many of the meetings have a focus on a particular country. Technically the UK is banned from agreeing new trade deals so long as it remains a member of the European Union. Nonetheless DIT has already set up ten working groups with the governments of fifteen countries to scope out the possibilities for new trade deals. DIT has held meetings with groups of businesses or chambers of commerce for most of these countries – Australia, China, several Gulf states, India, Israel, Norway, Turkey and the US. Other country-focussed business meetings include ones looking at trade with Belgium, Chile, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, and elsewhere.

Extract from Briefing paper by  Global Justice NowCorporate Europe Observatory

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