Political Contestation about International Economic Agreements: Lessons for the Canada-UK Trade Relationship after Brexit

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Politics and International Studies


In recent years, some international economic agreements - such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) concluded between Canada and the European Union (EU) - have generated considerable public controversy, while others have largely escaped public scrutiny. As Canada and the United Kingdom (UK) prepare to negotiate their post-Brexit economic relationship, it is important to understand under which conditions bilateral economic and trade agreements become politically contentious. Policy makers will also have to consider how public controversies about such agreements can be anticipated in designing the trade policy process, so that political contestation is channelled into impactful public debates. This knowledge synthesis project assesses the state of research knowledge on these issues. It addresses the following questions: Why do some international agreements become politically contentious, while others hardly register in public debates? Which arguments dominate debates in those instances in which agreements become politically contentious? What could be flashpoints of public contestation in a potential Canada-UK agreement? What best practices have been developed to channel trade-related political controversies into the process of making international economic policy, inter alia by increasing the transparency of negotiations, incorporating diverse stakeholders and viewpoints from an early stage, and informing the broader public about negotiation results? The proposed synthesis of research knowledge on these questions will identify research
strengths and gaps in this emergent field of scholarly inquiry; it will also aid policy makers in making crucial decisions on the governance of the upcoming Canada-UK trade negotiations, with the objective of facilitating an inclusive and evidence-based public debate.

Planned Impact

While the first six months of the grant period will be used primarily to complete the knowledge synthesis report, the second half of the grant period will be devoted to knowledge mobilization. The following groups of target research users will be addressed in both Canada and the UK:

-- Policy makers: This category includes ministers, deputy ministers and public servants, especially in trade related departments (Global Affairs Canada, Department for International Trade); members of parliament and their staff (in Canada also at the provincial level); political parties; as well as diplomats of other countries, especially if posted to Ottawa or London.

-- Stakeholders: This category includes representatives of businesses or economic sectors affected by a potential Canada-UK economic agreement, such as agricultural producers or corporations with significant investment in the other polity.

-- Civil society: This category includes interest groups and activists that can be expected to mobilize for or against a Canada-UK economic agreement, such as business associations, trade unions, chambers of commerce, consumer groups, think tanks, as well as the media.

-- Academia: While our project seeks to provide evidence to inform public policy, we also seek to make a contribution to scholarly discourse. We aim to produce at least one scholarly article, and also see this project as a launching pad for further research on the politicization of Canadian, British and European trade policy.

Our knowledge mobilization plan is based on the following components. After the completion of the knowledge synthesis report and the December 2018 forum in London, we will condense our report into two 2-page policy briefs - one for a Canadian and one for a British audience. In March or April 2019, the project will organize one policy workshop at each of the lead universities - Carleton University and University of Warwick - to present our findings to invited guests from the above constituencies, but also to university faculty, students and the interested public. By the end of the project, we will complete at least one article-length publication that presents our
findings to an academic audience. This article will briefly review the relevant literature and will then develop policy recommendations for the governance of Canada-UK trade negotiations. We will target a scholarly journal with an applied focus that welcomes contributions with a policy focus (for instance, International Journal). Depending on the results of our knowledge synthesis, we will also consider
publishing a second article with a more explicitly scholarly focus, for instance a systematic literature review on the politicization of trade policy.


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Description Brexit Policy Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was a worksop we organized at Carleton University (4 February 2019, Ottawa). We invited other grant holders from Montreal as well, and had multiple panels where we explained our findings to the general public, some students, and some policymakers. We had good discussion with the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Politicisation of Trade Agreements 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event will take place on 10 April, at King's College, London. We will invite academics, general public, and policymakers to discuss the future steps of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Understanding the Future of Canada-UK Trade Relationships Final Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Around 70 people attended this workshop, which was organized by the ESRC (12 December 2018 Amba Hotel Charing Cross London). The audience included some policymakers, practitioners and mostly academics. We had stimulating panel discussions all day long.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018