Any new trade deals must avoid ‘race to the bottom’.
Standards for trade after Brexit must not be allowed to deteriorate, the First Minister has said.
The comments were made during the bi-annual meeting between the Scottish Government and STUC which included a discussion about the UK Government approach to new trade deals following Brexit.
The meeting agreed that almost all modern trade deals touch on devolved issues and therefore must have the consent and participation of the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament.
This would include assessing the desirability of new trade deals, a formal role in negotiations and a part for the Scottish Parliament to play in the ratification and implementation of international trade agreements to ensure Scotland’s best interests are reflected.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Although Scotland faces being removed from the EU against our will we will continue to make sure Scotland’s voice is heard every step of the way.
“These arrangements aren’t just about who we trade with, they are about how we trade and how we maintain the highest possible standards. We want to minimise trade friction while ensuring consumer, environmental and worker protections are not allowed to suffer.
“There is already widespread support for the Scottish Government’s plan to uphold environmental standards following the UK’s exit from the EU and we are working hard to protect consumers by introducing the Consumer Scotland Bill creating the new advocacy and advice body Consumer Scotland by 2021.
“It is also essential that workers’ rights are fully protected. Of course only the transfer of responsibility for all powers over employment laws will enable the Scottish Parliament to ensure that this is the case.
“The people of Scotland should not have fewer protections than our friends and neighbours within the EU as a result of a Brexit that we didn’t vote for. We want to maintain regulatory alignment with the EU and ensure that any new deals are not used as an excuse for a race to the bottom when it comes to standards for trade.”
STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith said:
“Trade agreements shape the nature of our economy and directly impact the powers that governments have to intervene in the economy and the decisions they can take on regulations and standards.
“It is unacceptable that such vital issues could be traded away behind closed doors, with no role for devolved governments or indeed workers and the communities that are ultimately affected. At EU level social partnership structures guaranteed a voice for trade unions, yet at UK level there is little opportunity to shape these fundamental agreements.
“In the general election we saw the level of concern that existed around protecting the NHS. The NHS cannot be on the table in trade negotiations, and environmental protections, consumer rights and workers’ rights, cannot be undermined to make a quick buck.
“We call on the UK government to create a formal role for devolved nations and unions within its approach to trade. These issues are fundamental, we will not accept secret deals or an erosion of our rights.”
Scotland has one of the most progressive approaches to fair work in the world, which delivers benefits to both employers and employees.
The decision to remove worker protections from the Withdrawal Agreement Bill generates uncertainty and previous UK Governments have already actively undermined worker protection, such as through the Trade Union Act 2016. The Scottish Government’s position is that only the transfer of responsibility for all powers over employment laws can guarantee the rights of workers in Scotland and help support the ambition for Scotland to be a Fair Work Nation by 2025.