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The International Regulatory Cooperation (IRC) strategy launched to drive international collaboration

On 1 July, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published  the UK’s international regulatory cooperation (IRC) strategy, outlining the steps the government is taking to increase collaboration and learning with international partners to improve the UK’s domestic regulation, and showcase leadership in shaping international regulatory cooperation.

The IRC sets objectives in 3 main areas:

  • Better coordination. This strategy sets out a whole-of-government vision for undertaking IRC that outlines the roles, responsibilities and levers of UK government and other domestic actors engaged in IRC to make our efforts greater than the sum of their parts.
  • Building capability. The strategy is accompanied by an IRC toolkit to increase awareness and understanding of IRC across government.
  • Global collaboration. The UK will continue to spearhead global efforts and demonstrate thought leadership in shaping how regulation is developed internationally for the benefit of citizens and the environment.

techUK welcomes the launch of the IRC strategy. Our recent report - “Crafting a Strategy: UK International Digital Policy Cooperation” - outlines the need for such a strategy to ensure the UK is best placed to lead on the international arena on digital regulatory cooperation.

The document published on 1 July considers the implications of domestic regulations beyond national borders and designs a plan for collaboration with international partners, either bilaterally or through multilateral fora. In techUK’s report, we have outlined how to make best use of both FTAs and multilateral fora, like the G7, G20 and the WTO (link). techUK is also pleased to see that the IRC intends to embed and implement good regulatory practices and regulatory cooperation in future trade agreements. These provide an opportunity to commit to good regulatory practices with our partner countries and help ensure that parties minimise negative impacts on businesses via red tape or non-traffic barriers.

There have been a number of important digital and technological bilateral initiatives recently. The Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) is an ambitious digital-only agreement between two ambitious digital economies. The UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) went beyond its predecessor EU-Japan agreement to break new ground for a European county in the scale of its digital ambitions. The recently concluded UK-New Zealand FTA goes even further and the UK-Australia FTA broke new ground with not only a digital trade chapter but also a dedicated chapter on innovation. This chapter establishes a Strategic Innovation Dialogue to explicitly promote cooperation and facilitate innovation in areas such as artificial intelligence, low-emissions technologies, and value chains. Crucial to the success of the UK’s international digital regulation strategy is the effective operationalisation of existing agreements the UK has already concluded.

Bilateral forums and agreements are not the only means to advance the digital trade agenda and enable ongoing cooperation with key allies and partners. There are a range of digitally-focused plurilateral initiatives that exist between groups of close allies with similar objectives and that provide forums to break new ground.

It is also encouraging to see that the strategy recognises the need for better intra-government departments coordination when it comes to UK’s approach to international regulation. The challenges and opportunities presented by the digital world, and the potential harms, go far beyond the remit of just UK regulators. They are all inherently international in scope and scale. The Better Regulation consultation does promisingly establish as a principle to “[set] high standards at home and globally: we will set high standards at home and engage in robust regulatory diplomacy across the world”. techUK welcomed this as a core principle for the UK’s approach to regulation and have been calling on the UK government to consider and set out a clear strategy on how to action this principle in the international arena.

The strategy is the first UK’s government document that outlines how to set high regulatory standards at home and abroad by engaging robustly in regulatory diplomacy across the world, something techUK has advocated for as best practice.

To date, the need for international coordination and collaboration has not featured prominently in the plans of regulators such as through the DRCF. While some regulators, most notably the ICO, do participate in international forums on digital issues with regularity and with notable dividends, such as at the G7 with other data protection and privacy authorities, this is not common practice in the digital policy space. This is where we believe this strategy can play a clear role in making sure regulatory cooperation in the digital space has an international dimension by design.We welcome the IRC’s commitment to strengthening the UK’s bilateral relationships with likeminded jurisdictions and multilateral engagement with international organisations to drive digital regulatory cooperation forward.

The strategy also highlights how important it is for governments, regulators, and national standards and accreditation bodies to work together to ensure a more coordinated and cohesive approach to conducting IRC across the various government and non-government functions. As highlighted in the “Crafting a Strategy: UK International Digital Policy Cooperation” report, techUK believes there would  also need to be clear opportunities and forums for industry, civil society and other non-governmental stakeholders to feed into the strategy and its ongoing operation. This is essential for it to deliver long term commercial and societal value. An active collaboration between these groups and the government also opens other avenues to advance UK interests and advocate for UK values and approaches.

Members who have questions about the above or would like to get involved in our international regulatory cooperation work should contact

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