Tuesday, 13 November 2018

All on track at the WTO

I just watched the UK's ambassador to the WTO, Julian Braithwaite, giving evidence to the International Trade Committee in respect of the separation process at the WTO. He gave a cautious but upbeat performance. It didn't tell us anything we don't know. ie much of what we see written about this process is pure histrionics. Uncertified schedules will not meaningfully impact any of our future negotiations and the Article 28 process will ring-fence any active concerns. There are roadblocks to the UK's accession to the Government Procurement Agreement but nothing at all insurmountable.

Nothing said here is anything we didn't anticipate and certainly there is no cause for alarm. Everything appears to be on track but the finer details still all depend on what the final relationship with the EU looks like. What we did not get to hear, though, is very much about the process of rolling over our bilateral agreements and any progress on that score. I'm surprised there isn't more concern in respect of this being that nothing, as I understand it, is in the bag.

What strikes me about this, much like every other committee meeting I've watched throughout this process, is how much of a waste of time it is. MPs present don't really know what it is they are hearing, they're barely even listening and true to form ask largely useless and irrelevant questions. In this case the replies from Julian Braithwaite were at least interesting. The history of the appellate body dispute fills in a few gaps but it's not remotely pertinent. Parliament does have a singular talent for wasting people's time.

It would have been useful to ask questions about our wider Geneva participation, particularly since Julian Braithwaite is tasked with anything from the WTO to the ITU and all points between. It's all very well having a conventional trade policy with a to do list of FTAs but the UK will have to go the extra mile in exploiting the other avenues in the Geneva system. This is an aspect of trade and regulatory diplomacy our MPs are completely ignorant of.

All the same, the one utility of this meeting is that it should put to bed some of the tedious dramatising of the WTO process which is exploited unreasonably to paint Brexit as a failure. Scepticism is one thing but the relentless negativity is uncalled for. There will be Brexit dramas but they are not to be found in the WTO... for now. 

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