The UK is a party to international agreements that the EU has signed up to on behalf of its Member States, but after Brexit those agreements will stop applying to the UK. The Government is therefore seeking to re-establish the UK’s participation in those agreements to maintain arrangements as they currently stand.
The House of Lords European Union Committee is responsible for scrutinising these Brexit-related agreements, and consequently reports each one to the House for information or, if warranted by the content, for special attention.
The EU Committee's latest report on treaty scrutiny examines a number of treaties related to fishing and a free trade agreement with the Faroe Islands, which focusses on the trade of fish. These particular treaties were initially considered by the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee.
UK/Faroe Islands free trade agreement
The Government has established a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Faroe Islands to replace the EU-Faroe Islands FTA. The Faroe Islands is the UK’s 114th-largest trading partner accounting for less than 0.1% of total UK trade. In 2017, the majority of trade between the UK and the Faroe Islands was the import to the UK of fish and crustaceans, with a total value of over £200m.
The new FTA largely replicates the EU arrangement, but removes a paragraph from the preamble, which has potential implications for the connection between fishing access and trade - and is therefore significant in light of fishing access disputes between Scottish and Faroese fishers. It is unclear whether the Government consulted with the devolved administrations or the relevant industries when establishing the FTA. The FTA also maintains the use of EU certificates, which could create difficulties once the UK has established its own trade notification system.
Due to the uncertainties, the potential lack of consultation, and the political significance of fishing in relation to Brexit, the EU Select Committee has drawn the UK-Faroe Islands FTA to the special attention of the House. The FTA will be automatically ratified on 14 March unless Parliament passes a resolution that it should not be.
International fisheries agreements
The UK is a party to a number of multilateral (i.e. between three or more countries) fisheries agreements by virtue of its EU membership. These include:
- The Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing;
- The Agreement for the Establishment of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission;
- The Convention on Future Multilateral Cooperation in North-East Atlantic Fisheries;
- The Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean;
- The Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas;
- The International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas; and
- The Convention on Cooperation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries.
The UK is therefore seeking to become a party to these agreements in its own right.
Becoming an independent party to these agreements maintains the UK's current fishing access in the relevant areas, and also demonstrates the UK's commitment to sustainable fishing. Because the UK is signing up to pre-existing treaties, there is no change to the existing arrangements. The process for a new party joining the agreements varies, so in some cases there may be a membership gap of several weeks if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, but this is unlikely to have a material effect. And as an independent party the UK will have to contribute to the budget of some of the agreements: these payments range from £30,000 to £600,000 per year, plus the cost of participating in committees and working groups.
As this represents a maintenance of the status quo, the EU Select Committee simply reports these agreements to the House for information.
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