copy the linklink copied!3. Regulatory co-operation practices and tools

This chapters gives an overview of the bilateral, regional and multilateral co-operative efforts of the United Kingdom on regulatory matters. These take various forms, including through Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs), treaties, mutual recognition agreements (MRAs), trade agreements, or participation in regional or multilateral fora. The United Kingdom has notably traditionally been very active in international fora in various sectors and policy areas. Its co-operation efforts have been very much shaped by its former membership in the EU and its ties with Commonwealth countries. This chapter identifies opportunities to encourage a more consistent approach to international regulatory co-operation across Whitehall and further maximise the benefits of UK regulators co-operation activities.


The United Kingdom has traditionally been active internationally in various co-operation fora on regulatory matters, including on regulatory policy, in various sectors and policy areas, as well as in both the design and the delivery of regulation. External co-operation efforts of UK departments and regulators have so far been largely influenced by the UK membership of the EU. UK co-operation beyond the EU has also been shaped by historic relations with Commonwealth countries or cultural ties, although this and the co-operation partners largely depend on the sector.

Membership in a number of European agencies and networks have enabled UK departments and regulators to shape regulatory approaches at the EU level and to participate in exchange of information and evidence. As of February 2020, UK’s participation in various EU agencies, bodies and networks remains pending confirmation until the end of the “transition period” prior to the taking effect of any “future economic partnership” still to be negotiated between the EU and the United Kingdom by the end of 2020, and may depend on each different agency / body / network. According to the Withdrawal Agreement,1 the United Kingdom will no longer be represented in EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, but EU law will still apply in the United Kingdom during this transition period.

While the United Kingdom was a member of the EU, trade policy fell under the Common Commercial Policy, an exclusive competence of the EU. The majority of UK co-operation agreements, whether in the form of trade agreements or mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) were negotiated through the intermediary of the EU. With its withdrawal from the EU, the United Kingdom has started defining its own trade policy and strategy for negotiations of trade agreements and MRAs. With variations among sectors, the United Kingdom is also seeking new bilateral partnerships with other countries, and further engagement at the global level. International agreements mostly take the form of treaties and Memoranda of Understanding (MoU). The United Kingdom is also strengthening its technical assistance capacity in various sectors.

Competence in some sectors, for example financial services, did nevertheless remain to an extent at the member state level. For instance, in October 2018, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority concluded a Mutual Recognition of Funds (MRF) with the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) of Hong Kong concerning Covered Funds, Covered Management Companies and regulatory co-operation.2 Other bilateral agreements are reported in the case study on financial services in Chapter 4.

The United Kingdom has traditionally been active in international rulemaking, beyond the EU. It has been a founding member of several major IOs. Its membership in most IOs is not likely to be impacted by a withdrawal from the EU, with the exception of certain organisations where the United Kingdom’s participation used to take place through the intermediary of the EU. It is likely that the United Kingdom will invest even further in these multilateral fora after withdrawal from the EU. Indeed, one of the key objectives of the FCO’s foreign policy, as embodied in the regulatory diplomacy initiative (Box 1.3), is to project UK influence worldwide, while strengthening the rule-based international system and promoting UK interests and values. Beyond influence, participation in international regulatory networks comes critically in support of effective regulatory delivery as highlighted in the case studies developed in Chapter 4.

copy the linklink copied!The traditional UK international co-operation instruments: treaties and Memoranda of Understanding

The United Kingdom can conclude international agreements with other States, creating binding obligations under international law, or Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) which express intentions but not binding commitments (Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2014[1]). The development of such international agreements is decentralised, but the FCO plays an important role in ensuring that the binding commitments are consistent with UK obligations and publically disclosed.

Any UK government department may lead negotiations of an international treaty, but the responsibility for concluding treaties involving the United Kingdom lies with the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The FCO reviews all draft treaties, and is responsible for overseeing the policy aspects of treaties as well as the form used and procedure followed to ensure that the negotiated text conforms with both UK and international law.

As a dualist state, after ratification of treaties by the Government, the Parliament needs to incorporate the text of the treaty into national law by legislation.3 This is true for any binding agreement, including trade agreements. Until withdrawal from the EU, the only exception were EU Treaties and Regulations that used to be considered incorporated into UK law and binding at the domestic level without the need for a further act of Parliament (UK European Communities Act 1972).

MoUs are more flexible than treaties and can be negotiated and concluded by any government department or regulator. The procedure to develop MoUs is less formal, and the FCO does not scrutinize draft MoUs before their finalisation. Typically, MoUs may be concluded on subject matters that may evolve and require frequent changes, or to facilitate procedures of exchange of information directly between the United Kingdom and foreign authorities. For example, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has concluded MoUs with many of its regulatory counterparts, which facilitate the exchange of information and support investigative assistance related to the supervision and oversight of regulated entities in the United Kingdom and the partner jurisdiction. Examples include MoUs signed between the FCA and the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC)4, the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC),5 and the Reserve Bank of India6 (see the case study on financial services in Chapter 4). The United Kingdom has also established many MoUs to support the exchange of confidential information with countries beyond the EU in relation to medical products (see the case study on medical and healthcare products in Chapter 4).

As a result of its oversight functions, the UK FCO keeps track of international agreements concluded between the United Kingdom, whether by central government or sectoral authorities, and foreign authorities. Its database is used to provide information to departments asking about international commitments, to public enquiries and to feed into UK Treaties Online (UKTO), an online search facility.7 It does not disclose all agreements however. In particular, MoUs concluded by Departments other than the FCO for example are not systematically listed.

copy the linklink copied!Exchange of information and technical assistance

UK departments and regulators exchange information frequently with peers in different countries, whether at the European level – until recently mostly facilitated by common participation in European regulatory agencies, networks and bodies – or with other foreign partners, often facilitated by cultural or historic ties, for example via the Commonwealth. For example, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), in support of its core regulatory purposes, proactively works with international regulatory bodies to co-ordinate positions and engagement and exchange regulatory and technical information, experience and expertise on nuclear safety and security. This includes formal agreements such as Nuclear Cooperation Agreements (NCAs) and Information Exchange Arrangements (IEAs). The ONR has developed a strategic engagement framework that stands out in its mapping of relevant partners and in its vision of international co-operation, including a definition of the regulator’s international footprint (Chapter 4).

In addition, many UK regulators play an active role in sharing their experience with regulators from other countries in order to build capacity abroad. As an example, ONR commits to working with aspirant nuclear nations to support the development of high standards of safety and security. The global nature of the nuclear industry and the potential trans-boundary impact of any severe nuclear accident means it has a role to play in raising the bar internationally for public protection and to learn lessons for the United Kingdom on how to improve its regulatory regime. The OPSS also maintains a Technical Assistance Programme, which provides technical advice to developing countries in order to promote the reform or design of regulations, laws and strategies (Chapter 4).

copy the linklink copied!The building of new co-operation capacities: trade and mutual recognition agreements

The major UK trading partner is the EU, accounting for 49.5% of its imports and exports. Major non-EU partners include the United States, China and Russia (Figure ‎3.1, and Figure ‎3.2).

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Figure ‎3.1. United Kingdom: exports to and imports from main partner countries
As a per cent of total gross and value added exports and imports, 2015
Figure ‎3.1. United Kingdom: exports to and imports from main partner countries
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Figure ‎3.2. Total UK trade
Figure ‎3.2. Total UK trade

Note: Date period: year to end Q3 2018. The 10.8% excludes Turkey (plus San Marino and Andorra) which is part of a customs union with the EU, and excludes Japan, as the Economic Partnership Agreement only came into force on 1 February 2019.


When it was an EU member state, the United Kingdom was a party to trade and mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) concluded by the EU. In that capacity, the UK participated in around 40 free trade agreements with over 70 countries,8 accounting for some 10.8% of its trade, and recognised the authority of certain conformity assessment bodies from seven countries (Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United States).9

The MRAs concluded by the EU, which covered the United Kingdom until the end of the transition period, differ in terms of sectoral coverage, structure and level of regulatory co-operation. To date, Switzerland and Canada have the most comprehensive mutual recognition agreements with the EU in terms of sectoral coverage (Annex B). All agreements include mechanisms for voluntary co-operation between regulators and procedures for investigations into CABs competence.

Among trade agreements concluded by the EU, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiated with Canada is the most advanced in terms of embedding systematic horizontal regulatory co-operation disciplines, with a long list of sectors covered and provisions for co-operation on a wide range of regulatory issues.10 In particular, it establishes a Regulatory Co-operation Forum set up between Canada and the EU, which focuses on regulatory co-operation in five main areas: Cybersecurity and the Internet of Things; Animal Welfare, transportation of animals; Cosmetics-like drug products; Pharmaceutical inspections; Exchange of information between the EU RAPEX alert system and RADAR, Canada’s consumer product incident reporting system.11 CETA has been provisionally implemented in the United Kingdom since 21 September 2017, thus entailing that progress made in regulatory co-operation between Canada and the EU under CETA framework applied to the United Kingdom, until UK withdrawal from the EU.12

According to the EU – UK Withdrawal Agreement, all EU trade agreements continue to have effect during the transition period until 31st December 2020, and will cease to have legal effect in the United Kingdom at the end of this period.13 The United Kingdom would then trade with all countries with whom it does not have a trade agreement under the terms agreed on in the WTO, and no longer under the more specific provisions of bilateral or regional trade agreements that often imply further integration. This means that all general provisions of WTO Agreements would apply, as well as tariff rates the United Kingdom has agreed on in the WTO context, with the principle of the “Most Favoured Nation”.14

The United Kingdom is in the process of designing its own trade policy, which applies after the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU. The Government introduced a Trade Bill in November 2017 to set the broad outlines of the upcoming UK Trade Policy. This bill aims to define how future trade agreements concluded by the United Kingdom will be developed and agreed on. It does not, however, establish a position on regulatory co-operation. However, this Bill did not complete its parliamentary process and will not become law.15

In addition, in order to ensure predictability in trade relations and prevent undue costs for businesses trading with the United Kingdom, the government has been working on “continuity agreements”, which mostly replicate the provisions of trade agreements already agreed upon with the EU. The United Kingdom is seeking to provide continuity for existing EU free trade agreements covering around 70 countries that account for GBP 139bn or around 11% of UK total trade in 2018.16 As of 4 June 2019, the United Kingdom had concluded agreements representing over half of the current total trade with countries where continuity for the existing EU trade agreements is sought. This includes some of UK’s most important trading partners, such as Switzerland.17 Although these agreements can be ratified, they will only take effect when existing EU trade agreements no longer apply to the UK, i.e. at the end of the transition period.18 In the same way, to ensure continuity of benefits from MRAs, the United Kingdom has concluded continuity agreements with the following countries: Australia,19 New Zealand,20 and the US.21 The United Kingdom has also concluded agreements with the US and Switzerland relating to insurance.22

Beyond these continuity agreements, the United Kingdom will also start negotiating new trade agreements with major trading partners. With this in mind, DIT has carried out a public consultation to prepare for negotiations with Australia, New Zealand, the US and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and, more recently, Japan.23 To accompany the consultation, the DIT has prepared an information note on trade with the specific countries, highlighting where trade barriers were highest, including non-tariff barriers (based on WTO’s Integrated Trade Intelligence Portal for goods and the OECD Services Trade Restrictiveness Index for services) (see (Department for International Trade, 2018[2]); (Department for International Trade, 2018[3]); (Department for International Trade, 2018[4]). This type of information tailored to each trading partner would serve as a basis to direct the regulatory co-operation efforts to be embedded in each trade agreement. The consultation resulted in 600 000 responses, still being processed.

The UK government has also been working on trade and regulatory co-operation initiatives outside of the FTA sphere. For example in June 2018 the Chancellor for the Exchequer Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP announced a strategy to negotiate a series of Global Financial Partnerships (GFPs), which will “bring together governments, regulators, and industry to build an enhanced framework for cross-border financial services”.24

copy the linklink copied!UK participation in regional fora

As EU member, the UK departments and regulators participated in a number of European regulatory agencies, bodies and networks – see the case studies in Chapter 4 for details on this participation for financial services, nuclear energy, product safety and medical and healthcare products. Back in 2017, the UK NAO reported some 34 European agencies whose frameworks affected the UK (National Audit Office, 2017[5]), plus a number of regulatory bodies and networks. These vehicles allowed UK departments and regulators to feed into their own domestic rulemaking (by co-operating actively with European peers, exchanging information and co-ordinating on enforcement activities), and to contribute to the development of regional positions, including in the preparation of EU Regulations and Directives. This dynamic process helped to ensure alignment of regulatory positions with regional peers. In addition, via European agencies’ and bodies’ ties with other regional networks or more global organisations, the United Kingdom also gained access to peers from non-EU countries.

The extent and modalities (if any) of UK participation in EU agencies and networks following the transition period remain unclear. There is also concern about whether “the extent of UK participation that is envisaged will be sufficient to ensure that UK interests are represented and fully taken into account” (House of Lords, 2019[6]). There is precedent for countries outside of the EU to participate in EU agencies – although participation in some such as the European Fisheries Control Agency and the Euratom Supply Agency is currently restricted to EU members. At present, membership status is usually reserved for EEA or EFTA member states, which can appoint experts to the relevant technical committees and working groups, as well as representatives on management boards (with limited or no voting rights on substantive matters). Participating as an observer country is also possible in the case of agencies that do not allow non-EU membership. Observer countries, which have no voting rights, can also participate in working groups and meetings. Compliance with relevant EU regulations and related provisions (e.g. monitoring and inspection) is usually a pre-requisite.

EEA/EFTA countries are currently members of the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European Food Safety Authority (EEA only) and the European Environment Agency. They have observer status in the European Chemical Agency, the European Medicines Agency, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communication (BEREC), the European Railway Agency, the European Banking Authority, the European Securities and Markets Authority and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority. Certain third countries also participate as observers in BEREC (Box ‎3.1), the European Aviation Safety Agency and the European Environment Agency. Although there is no precedent, participation as an observer in the European Chemical Agency and European Railway Agency would also be theoretically possible for third countries.

Co-operation between non-EU countries (without permanent member or observer status) and EU agencies can also be governed by administrative arrangements or MoUs. Agencies can invite those third countries to attend management board or committee meetings as observers (e.g. Europol can invite US authorities to management board meetings). The extent of co-operation under such agreements is however limited.

There is also opportunity to participate in other networks and initiatives that are not directly linked to EU membership. This is notably the case of RegWatchEurope, a network of external advisory bodies set up to “scrutinise the impacts of new legislation” and “challenge and advise […] governments on various aspects of better regulation and on the overall regulatory burden of legislation”.25 The UK’s RPC is one of the network’s members, as is the Better Regulation Council of Norway (a non-EU country).26 Another example is the EU’s NanoSafety Cluster27 (NSC), one of whose Working Groups (WGG) focuses on the “use of scientific findings in different settings such as setting standards and developing internationally harmonised/accepted guidelines”. The NSC, which is open to international partners, also encompasses the Malta Initiative, which serves “to develop and amend test guidelines and guidance documents to ensure that nano-specific issues for fulfilling regulatory requirements are addressed”.28

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Box ‎3.1. Participation in EU bodies: the example of telecoms

The UK Regulator for Communications Services (Ofcom) participates in a number of European regulatory agencies, bodies and networks, including the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC).1 BEREC is composed of national regulatory authorities from each EU member state responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operation of the markets for electronic communications networks and services.2 Through this participation, OFCOM gains insights into how other national regulators are addressing policy challenges the United Kingdom is facing as well, and through a reciprocal exchange regulatory best practices are developed. As well as participating in working groups across BEREC’s work programme, OFCOM can tap into other regulators’ experiences by submitting questionnaires to BEREC members to know how they have addressed a particular regulatory issue.

In addition, through its participation in BEREC, OFCOM has had the opportunity to contribute to the development of EU-wide approaches to telecommunications regulation, thus helping to reduce regulatory divergences for private stakeholders operating throughout the EU. These common approaches are laid down in BEREC “guidelines” or “common positions”, for example on information to be provided to consumers on mobile coverage,3 on the implementation of EU rules on net neutrality, or on approaches to wholesale broadband access obligations.4 As BEREC has an advisory role to the EU institutions in relation to European legislation, participation in BEREC has also enabled Ofcom to contribute to the development of the EU rules that have subsequently become binding in the United Kingdom.

Finally, BEREC has ties with regulatory authorities beyond the EU, and with other regional networks, allowing its members to increase ties with regulatory authorities from non-EU member states. For example, BEREC collaborates actively with its Latin American equivalent, Regulatel,5 through yearly summits of the two groups. This allows all European regulators to cultivate ties with their peers in Latin America and share experiences and best practices on common challenges, such as promoting innovation, regulating for net neutrality or closing the digital divide and increasing the digitalisation of society.6 BEREC also has memoranda of understanding with a number of regulators, including the FCC in the US, and TRAI in India.

The extent and nature of OFCOM’s continued participation in BEREC following the UK withdrawal from the EU will depend on the terms agreed on between the EU and UK by the end of the transition period. The recently adopted BEREC Regulation provides that BEREC is open to the participation of regulatory authorities from third countries to the EU “…with primary responsibility in the field of electronic communications, where those third countries have entered into agreements with the Union to that effect.”7







7. Ibid.

copy the linklink copied!UK participation in multilateral fora

The United Kingdom has played an active role in contributing to a multilateral rule-based system through its active participation in international organisations. If anything, the broad context created by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, this has become an even stronger priority of UK foreign policy. Historically, the United Kingdom has played an important role in the development of international organisations, being a founding member of intergovernmental organisations such as NATO, OECD, WTO, the Council of Europe, OSCE, as well as more informal political fora such as the G7, G8 and the G20. It is also a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Today, the UK departments and regulatory bodies participates actively in a variety of international organisations that develop normative instruments. These range from traditional intergovernmental organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the OECD, to trans-governmental networks of regulators such as the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) or the Pharmaceutical Inspection Co-operation Scheme (PIC/S).

To ensure active contribution to multilateral discussions, the United Kingdom has permanent delegations, responsible for covering the work of international organisations on a regular basis, at the OECD; the Commonwealth; the Council of Europe; the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); NATO; the United Nations in Geneva and in New York; the International Monetary Fund (IMF); and the EU. These permanent delegations may cover the work of several international organisations in parallel. For example, the Geneva based mission to the United Nations covers the work of over 35 international organisations based in Switzerland, amounting to a UK contribution of approximately £2 billion a year.29

To support line ministries or sectoral regulators in the development of international legal instruments and standards in international organisations and where assistance is required, the FCO provides thematic and geographic advice to the relevant lead departments, both in London and by mobilising its network of permanent delegations. Beyond this, the FCO does not have a specific role in overseeing UK’s participation in IOs, nor in ensuring that sectoral regulators and/or line ministries have a coherent position in IOs. A range of different departments hold the lead responsibility for engagement with the broad variety of international organisations which the UK participates in, depending on the subject matter covered.

Beyond intergovernmental organisations, BSI participates in international standardisation bodies such as ISO, IEC and ITU. BSI also participates with other UK bodies in ETSI.30 By participating both in regional (European) and international fora, BSI plays a role in trying to ensure consistency between the standards developed at both levels. Via UKAS, the United Kingdom is also active in the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC), the international associations promoting the value of accreditation against recognised national and international standards.


[3] Department for International Trade (2018), An information pack for the consultation relating to a bilateral Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and Australia,

[2] Department for International Trade (2018), An information pack for the consultation relating to a bilateral Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and New Zealand,

[4] Department for International Trade (2018), An information pack for the consultation relating to a bilateral Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States,

[1] Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2014), Treaties and Memoranda of Understanding: Guidance on Practice and Procedures, (accessed on 27 February 2019).

[6] House of Lords (2019), “Beyond Brexit: how to win friends and influence people: 35th Report of Session 2017-19”, HL Paper 322,

[5] National Audit Office (2017), A Short Guide to Regulation,

[7] Regulatory Policy Committee (2018), Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada Department for International Trade: RPC rating: fit for purpose,


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← 10. Although in relation to financial services, the UK benefits from the Regulatory Cooperation on Financial regulation Annex in the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. Key elements include a commitment to use recognition for each other’s regimes wherever possible; considering the impact of new regulatory initiatives on the other Party; offering consultations on each other’s rules, on a best endeavours basis; a process for withdrawal of any recognition granted; and the formation of a Joint Financial Regulatory Working Group.

← 11. See UK RPC Opinion on impact assessment regarding CETA, (Regulatory Policy Committee, 2018[7]).

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← 16. This excludes Turkey (plus San Marino and Andorra) which is part of a customs union with the EU, and excludes Japan, as the Economic Partnership Agreement only came into force on 1 February 2019.

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← 30. ETSI is open to membership buy large and small private companies, research entities, academia, government and public organisations. One hundred and eleven bodies from the UK are members of ETSI.

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