Call for legal services to be top of the agenda in trade negotiations

Catherine Brims
Catherine BrimsInternational policy adviser (North Asia and the Pacific) at the Law Society

Legal services should be the core of the UK's trade negotiations given their economic importance, the Law Society of England and Wales has argued in written evidence to the government.

Two people shaking hands in front of shelves

We called on the government to secure ambitious deals for its leading sectors while giving evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Trade and Export Promotion report on trade strategy published on 21 April 2021, and the International Trade Select Committee inquiry on UK trade negotiations in February.

We recommended that:

  • the UK should negotiate on its areas of strength: legal and professional services
  • trade deals should include a clear definition of legal services and recognise the specificities of international practice for the sector by permitting home-title practice without the need for mutual recognition procedures or requalification in the host title
  • trade negotiations on legal services should seek the ability for UK legal professionals to do the following:
    • advise clients on home-country laws and public and private international law to the extent that they are entitled to practise in their home jurisdiction
    • provide advice through commercial presence for firms, temporary practice (fly-in fly-out), establishment rights for individuals, as well as digital provision
    • have a clear, transparent and proportionate path to requalification into the host state profession
    • represent and advise their clients in arbitration, conciliation and mediation in international proceedings; and act as arbitrators, mediators and conciliators
    • partner with, employ and be employed by local lawyers
  • the UK government utilise the mechanisms available, including regulatory cooperation and domestic regulation provisions, to secure these rights and support frameworks that encourage ongoing development in legal services within its free-trade agreements (FTAs)
  • all negotiations should be complemented with market access discussions. Trade negotiations may be a catalyst for change outside of the text of FTAs, particularly if both governments give impetus to relevant authorities to progress these
  • the UK government continue its strong relationship with stakeholders and open conversations with the private sector, with a view to working collaboratively
  • the UK government continue to recognise that trade goes hand in hand with respect for the rule of law and consider human rights clauses in line with previously negotiated FTAs

It's crucial that legal services, and services more generally, are adequately considered in these discussions.

Services, and in particular legal services, play an important role in facilitating the globalised market, both directly and indirectly.

However, a challenge for trade in legal services is that many of the barriers are 'behind the border'.

We're working with the UK government to ensure that the legal sector secures the best outcomes for the legal profession both within and beyond FTAs.

If you're interested in find out more about our work on digital and data in trade, email international@lawsociety.org.uk.

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