Our Head of International, Adam Marks, provides an update on international trade deals following the UK's exit from the EU and the opportunities these might present for the profession.
Brexit has in a technical sense been completed, though recent debates on the Northern Ireland Protocol could convince you otherwise. Putting the ongoing issues around the implementation of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) aside, trade policy continues to develop at a rapid pace as the UK continues prioritised signing new deals with partners around the globe.
In the first instance, after the UK’s departure from the EU, the Department for International Trade (DIT) signed a series of rollover deals to attempt to replicate what was being lost because of our departure from the EU. That has now started to change and a series of new deals are being negotiated and signed that represent agreements that go beyond the prior commitments made whilst the UK was a member of the EU.
The new trade deals
To start with, DIT chose to prioritise deals with the US, Australia and New Zealand. The latter two of these have now been completed along with a Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) with Singapore. These three deals could also serve as steppingstones on the UK’s journey towards its stated goal of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). This wider trans-Pacific deal currently excludes the USA since Donald Trump withdrew the US, though in the longer term, there is also the question of whether this would potentially deliver a deal that could link the USA and the UK.
In the more immediate future the UK has realised that a deal with the USA as a whole is not on the table. Instead the UK has announced its intention on pursuing a series of smaller deals with individual US states though the ongoing dispute between the UK and EU regarding the Northern Ireland Protocol are also complicating this. The UK is also pursuing a deal with the Gulf Co-operation Council, an area of significant interest for the many Scottish lawyers who work in the various states party to the deal.
Our involvement on behalf of the profession
Whilst international trade is a reserved matter, numerous parts of it, for example in recognition of professional qualifications and legal services, impact on devolved areas and the legal profession. Because of this the Law Society has contributed to the development of these deals through our membership of various trade councils (such as the UK Trade Advisor Group for Professional Services) and submitted consultation responses based on surveys of our members.
The deals signed do not so far change any of our obligations or regulations but do commit us to enter dialogue on a variety of issues such as recognition of qualifications. This will be done through a series of subject specific dialogues, for instance, the Australia deal will result in the formation of a Legal Services Regulatory Dialogue for representatives from the legal profession across the UK, including the Law Society of Scotland, and Australia to come together, share expertise and address remaining behind the border barriers.
Looking to new opportunities
We are excited about what opportunities these new deals could bring for the Scottish profession. Scotland has for a long time been at the forefront of legal tech with its LawscotTech programme and the Singapore Digital Agreement could help us develop this further. Equally, improving the links with fellow common law jurisdictions in Australia and New Zealand could present both business and mobility opportunities in future all of which are welcome.