As the UK Government continues to consider the UK’s post-Brexit bilateral trade and investment relationships, it has been clear of its need to fully understand business and civil society’s offensive and defensive interests. An increased focus on stakeholder engagement is now crucial to developing informed and representative negotiating positions with third countries.

Recent announcements by the Government’s Department for International Trade (DIT) present a welcome opportunity for businesses and civil society to shape the UK’s future trading relationships with some of its most valuable international trading partners.

As the UK prepares to leave the EU and enter into negotiations with third countries, companies and organisations should now a) take steps to understand the potential risks and opportunities that negotiations with key markets present to their business; and b) seek to engage proactively with the Government so as to ensure that these interests are both understood and properly reflected in the UK's future trading relationships. This is particularly important when dealing with commercial risks or potential barriers to trade which may require the Government to adopt either offensive or defensive positions in discussions with third countries.

In order to provide business and civil society with the opportunity to inform post-Brexit negotiations, earlier this month, Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, announced the establishment of two key initiatives. The announcements signal a renewed emphasis on the Government's commitment to developing an inclusive and transparent trade policy based on the evidence and recommendations provided by a diverse and wide range of stakeholders:

The Strategic Trade Advisory Group (STAG), launched on 3 April 2019, will be chaired by the Minister for Trade Policy the Rt Hon George Hollingbery and includes organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The forum for high-level strategic discussions between the government and key stakeholders, will convene on a quarterly basis to bring expert external insight to trade policy making and advise ministers. A full list of the STAG's members can be found here.

The Government also announced the launch of the Expert Trade Advisory Groups (ETAGs). Unlike the STAG, the ETAGs will convene experts, academics and practitioners from strategic industries or sectors according to the needs of the UK's trade negotiations. The facilitated technical policy exchanges will be hosted by relevant DIT officials with a view to ensuring that the UK’s trade policy is backed up by evidence at a detailed level, and is able to deliver positive outcomes for the UK.

Whilst membership of both the STAG and ETAG groups are both restricted, numerous mechanisms exist for businesses and civil society to engage with Government ministers, officials and parliamentarians in advance of and throughout the UK's negotiations with third countries.