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UK Policy Briefing

Trade and investment: Briefing for a new government

This briefing looks at the effects of domestic trade policies and international trade agreements, including on labour rights and public services.

Mary-Ann Stephenson


  • Trade agreements impact differently on women and men. Poorly designed trade policies can prioritise the interests of multinational corporations and wealthy countries over equality and human rights.
  • Post Brexit the UK has diminished negotiating power that leaves it in a weaker position to resist trade deals that reduce environmental or consumer standards.
  • New UK Trade deals could include clauses that have a serious impact on public services, for example preventing a government taking a privatised service back into the public sector or limiting the ability of governments to regulate services. This will have a disproportionate impact on women who are more likely to depend on public services and more likely to work in the public sector.
  • Treaties on investment have allowed corporations to sue Governments for a wide range of actions including environmental and health protections, regulation of finance or increasing the national minimum wage.


  • UK trade negotiations should operate within a transparent overarching policy framework that prioritises the protection and promotion of equality and human rights in the UK, our trading partners and third countries.
  • Trade agreements should include mechanisms to ensure that any new employment opportunities for women in the UK or our trading partners protect and promote rather than undermine equality and labour rights.
  • Governments should set up a demonstrably independent and expert body to conduct studies of the likely impact of trade deals on equality and human rights and monitor actual impact over time in order to address adverse impacts.
  • There should be targeted support for groups most badly affected by changing trade relationships.
  • Trade deals should include revision clauses so that they can be amended when this is justified.
  • The UK should include carve out provisions in trade agreements to enable governments to exclude public services from trade agreements.
  • The UK should adopt a ‘positive list’ approach so that only service sectors listed in the agreement are subject to trade commitments.
  • The UK should exclude standstill clauses and ratchet clauses from trade deals to ensure policy making flexibility.
  • The UK Government should use its independent trade policy-making powers to undertake a serious review of the benefits and drawbacks of investor protection provisions. In their current form such provisions should be excluded from all future UK trade deals.