Freesteel Blog » Easy Trade Deals Update

Easy Trade Deals Update

Thursday, September 12th, 2019 at 1:52 pm Written by:

One of the primary advantages told to us of Brexit is that it permits the UK to instruct its own civil servants to negotiate new international trade deals, and not have the work done by the EU civil servants.

How’s that getting along?

Let’s go on the Gov.UK website to “Find out which new trade agreements will be in place if there’s a no-deal Brexit”.

We’ve got listed, in approximate order of importance, South Korea, Switzerland, Israel, Iceland and Norway, Chile, the Andean countries, Carribean, Central America (does not include Mexico), Eastern and Southern Africa, the Pacific states, the Palestinian Authority, the Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein.

There are 26 other countries or trading blocks listed as “engagement ongoing” where we’ve got nothing.

Let’s take a look at what’s actually been done in the last three years.

Here’s a bit from the UK/Chile Agreement of 6 February 2019:

Basically this says:

At moment of Brexit the provisions of the EU-Chile Agreement (including the instruments referred to in Article 206) are incorporated here, but modified so it is as if it had been signed between the UK and Chile in the first place, except for what’s written here.

One of these exceptions (Article 5) is that references to the Euro are not going to be changed to UK Pounds, even though an Agreement between the UK and Chile would have obviously used UK Pounds.

Here’s that aforementioned Article 206 of the EU-Chile Agreement:

Pretty boring. Most of these treaties are 95% Annexes listing every kind of product and material.

How about this cross-reference from another part of the UK-Chile Agreement:

Here’s that section from the original EU-Chile Agreement:

That looks very mutatis mutandis to me. Why have they wasted our time?

There’s more fun to be had over with the Columbia, Ecuador, Peru Agreement.

Here’s the incorporation article:

And here’s a selection from the modifications:

Now we need to dip in to the 2600 page EU-Andean Trade Treaty to find, for example, Article 16 footnote(5):

Also, Article 13(1) Subparagraph (e) says:

1. The Trade Committee shall… (e) oversee the application of Article 105;

Article 105 is about facilitating the movement of EU goods between the Andean countries.

This text chasing is all needlessly tedious, boring and a waste of human intellect.

The problem with this kind of legal document endless cross-referencing and hacking is that it’s worse than an embodiment of the GOTO command in software code — a command which software engineers basically stopped using forty years ago due to being considered harmful. Modern programming languages don’t even have this command.

We are still waiting for people legal profession to recognize the harm they are doing with their textual modification practices like these and consider looking for a different way.

For inspiration, they should be looking at Software Engineering, where what is being documented is objectively more complex and a lot of people whose time is not billed to clients need to use it in real life. When most people who need to look at law give up in disgust when they see the inoperable state of the instructions and then hire a specialist lawyer to do it.

For many years, the Python Programming Language documentation had two important documents, called Tutorial (start here), and Language Reference (for language lawyers).

This was a warning that normal programmers should not need to look at the Language Reference, but the quip gave too much credit to lawyers, because the Python Reference Manual uses 50 year old inventions, such as marked-up text, hyperlinks and anchored paragraphs — none of which anyone who works in legalese seems to have encountered in their professional lives.

Ah, but there is always the inertia within the business. You can’t do any innovation on the way we draft legal documents because your practices have to be compatible with the way everyone else does it in the world. It’s never worth building up a whole new system just to get your current document done. We’re always fixing something that is already there.

Well, here was the perfect opportunity to do it better. For three years there’s been this large room the Department of International Trade where civil servants have been attempting to rewrite 60 trade deals on laptops with tiny screens using Microsoft Word backed up on OneDrive and editing documents originally created from PDF-to-Doc managing their progress with free-form in-line text annotations and shared excel spreadsheets. Their conditions could not have been worse and ought to have forced them into some experimentation and re-evaluation of the practices and technologies used.

For example, someone might have learnt how to deploy and use MediaWiki with its embedded version control, multi-user editing, and comprehensive mark-up language capable of cross-references and footnotes, for heaven’s sake.

If they had gone down this road of applying any kind of innovation to grapple with a job that plainly could not be done on time the traditional way, they might have developed (or rediscovered from software engineering) the techniques that could have revolutionized the way that legal text was managed and exported it to the rest of the world.

I blame the universities for providing such a poor education where the students don’t get taught that the way it’s done now is just not good enough.

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