Involving devolved administrations in international trade negotiations

Canada is a federal state with a division of power between the federal Government and the provinces, with some matters of jurisdiction at the authority of the federal Government, some at the provinces and some split between the two. The federal Government has authority for negotiating and signing trade agreements, but they involve the provinces very heavily in that process. Their approach for incorporating the provinces has been ad hoc rather than formalised in nature and it has also been evolving over a period of several decades. Part of the rationale for involving the provinces in the process of trade negotiations is because increasingly these trade agreements involve not just tariffs and other measures at the border, but the sorts of regulatory issues that can often be the responsibility of sub-national levels of government, such as the provinces. Those include issues such as government procurement, agriculture, environment, health, energy, labour, and investment.

In Canada now, many provinces have a trade team that interfaces with the federal Government to ensure that the interests of provinces are represented. Mechanisms are in place to consult with the provinces in real time, to discuss the progress of talks and to seek their inputs and their technical expertise. The primary mechanism for this in Canada is the Permanent Federal-Provincial-Territorial Trade Committee, known as the C-Trade Committee. This would be something similar to the Joint Ministerial Sub-Committee on International Trade that has been recommended by a Scottish Parliament Committee. The C-Trade Committee meets up to four times a year in face-to-face meetings. They also have supplementary teleconference calls as well.
There are similar consultative committees that exist on issue-specific areas. For example, there is a committee that deals specifically with agricultural trade issues and similar specialised committees for other trade issues. The idea is that discussions within these committees involve updates on progress in trade negotiations, trade disputes and other trade policy issues. This is supposed to provide a forum for ongoing dialogue that provides an important and permanent source of information on regional and sectoral interests and also ensures that the national negotiating position is one that is acceptable to all of the provinces as well as the federal Government.
In the case of the CETA (the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) negotiations, the provinces played a particularly large role. They were involved in crafting the mandate for the negotiations; they provided inputs on their issues of interest and expertise; they had access to the confidential negotiating documents and they were extensively consulted throughout the negotiations. The provinces nominated their own chief negotiators to join the Canadian delegation. The C-Trade Committee mentioned above met before every stage in the negotiations, and it provided the key forum for agreeing on Canada’s negotiating position. The provinces were an integral part of deciding Canada’s negotiating position.
If the UK is to move to establishing a Joint Ministerial Sub-Committee on International Trade post-Brexit, a number of issues would need to be considered and nailed down in advance.   These would include the frequency and regularity of meetings to give devolved government real and timely opportunities to contribute; the need to avoid top down decision-making and to ensure confidentiality and; critically, the need for close coordination at the level of government officials, not just between ministers.

This article draws on evidence given by Dr. Hopewell to the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry into "Scotland and Brexit: Trade and Foreign Investment" on 5 June 2018.




Comments policy

All comments posted on the site via Disqus are automatically published. Additionally comments are sent to moderators for checking and removal if necessary. We encourage open debate and real time commenting on the website. The Centre on Constitutional Change cannot be held responsible for any content posted by users. Any complaints about comments on the site should be sent to

Kristen Hopewell's picture
University of Edinburgh
31st August 2018
Filed under:

Latest blogs

  • 22nd January 2019

    The UK is increasingly polarised by Brexit identities and they seem to have become stronger than party identities, a new academic report finds. Only one in 16 people did not have a Brexit identity, while more than one in five said they had no party identity. Sir John Curtice’s latest analysis of public opinion on a further referendum finds there has been no decisive shift in favour of another referendum. The report, Brexit and public opinion 2019, by The UK in a Changing Europe, provides an authoritative, comprehensive and up-to-date guide to public opinion on each of the key issues around Brexit. CCC Fellow, Dr Coree Brown Swan contributed a chapter on "the SNP, Brexit and the politics of independence"

  • 22nd January 2019

    In the papers accompanying the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill published at the end of 2018, the UK Government says that it is “exploring opportunities to co-design the final proposals with the devolved administrations.” There are clear benefits in having strong co-operation and collaboration across the UK in the oversight of our environmental law and performance. Yet the challenge of finding a way forward in terms of working together is substantial since each part of the UK is in a different position at present. Given where things stand today, it may be better to accept that a good resolution is not possible immediately and to revisit the issue at a later stage - so long as there is a strong commitment to return and not allow interim arrangements to become fixed. Colin Reid, Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Dundee examines the issues.

  • 17th January 2019

    Richard Parry assesses a memorable day in UK parliamentary history as the Commons splits 432-202 on 15 January 2019 against the Government's recommended Brexit route. It was the most dramatic night at Westminster since the Labour government’s defeat on a confidence motion in 1979.

  • 17th January 2019

    What is the Irish government’s Brexit wish-list? The suggestion that Irish unity, as opposed to safeguarding political and economic stability, is the foremost concern of the Irish government is to misunderstand and misrepresent the motivations of this key Brexit stakeholder, writes Mary C. Murphy (University College Cork).

  • 17th January 2019

    Brexit is in trouble but not because of the Irish backstop, argues the CCC's Michael Keating.

Read More Posts