All 28 contributions to the Trade Bill 2019-21

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Wed 20th May 2020
Trade Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & Programme motion & Money resolution
Tue 16th Jun 2020
Trade Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 2nd sitting & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 18th Jun 2020
Trade Bill (Third sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 3rd sitting & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 18th Jun 2020
Trade Bill (Fourth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 23rd Jun 2020
Trade Bill (Fifth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 5th sitting & Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 23rd Jun 2020
Trade Bill (Sixth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 6th sitting & Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 25th Jun 2020
Trade Bill (Seventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 7th sitting & Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 25th Jun 2020
Trade Bill (Eighth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 8th sitting & Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons
Mon 20th Jul 2020
Trade Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Report stage & 3rd reading
Tue 21st Jul 2020
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

1st reading (Hansard) & 1st reading (Hansard) & 1st reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 1st reading
Tue 8th Sep 2020
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 29th Sep 2020
Trade Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 1st Oct 2020
Trade Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 6th Oct 2020
Trade Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 8th Oct 2020
Trade Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 13th Oct 2020
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard)
Thu 15th Oct 2020
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard)
Mon 7th Dec 2020
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage:Report: 1st sitting & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Tue 15th Dec 2020
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 6th Jan 2021
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 18th Jan 2021
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 19th Jan 2021
Trade Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Tue 2nd Feb 2021
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 9th Feb 2021
Trade Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Consideration of Lords amendments
Tue 23rd Feb 2021
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendmentsPing Pong (Hansard) & Consideration of Commons amendments
Mon 22nd Mar 2021
Trade Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords Amendments
Tue 23rd Mar 2021
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Lords Hansard & Consideration of Commons amendments
Thu 29th Apr 2021
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent

Trade Bill

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons
Wednesday 20th May 2020

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Trade Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Second Reading
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I must inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the reasoned amendment in the name of Keir Starmer. I call Secretary Elizabeth Truss to move the Second Reading. The Secretary of State is asked to speak for no more than 15 minutes.

14:28
Elizabeth Truss Portrait The Secretary of State for International Trade (Elizabeth Truss)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced in decades. All over the world we see its devastating impact. We will do whatever it takes to support United Kingdom businesses to continue trading, with our network of 350 advisers across the country and trade commissioners across the world.

This crisis highlights just how important it is to keep trade flowing and supply chains open, so that we can all have the essential supplies we need. It is free and open trade that has ensured that we have food on our table and access to vital personal protective equipment and medication. At meetings with my fellow G20 Trade Ministers, I have continually called for a united global response, tariff cuts on key supplies and reform of the World Trade Organisation. Although it is unfortunate that some countries have resorted to protectionism, many have sought to liberalise in the face of this crisis. In particular, I have been working with colleagues such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to highlight the importance of keeping trade flowing.

Free trade and resilient supply chains will be crucial to the global economic recovery as the crisis passes. Time after time, history has shown us that free trade makes us more prosperous, while protectionism results only in poverty, especially for the worst off. Britain has a proud history as a global leader and advocate of free trade. The bold and principled decision of Sir Robert Peel to take on the power of the wealthy producers and repeal the corn laws in 1846 ushered in an unprecedented era of free trade that saw ordinary people in Britain benefit from more varied and cheaper food, helping to grow our cities and power forward the world’s first industrial revolution.

I see a real opportunity again for industrial areas across Britain as we become an independent trading nation. By cutting tariffs and reducing export red tape, our great British businesses will be able to sell more goods around the world. British steel, ceramics and textiles are some of the world’s best, but all too often they are subject to high tariffs and barriers. Those industries are already looking forward to the opportunities that future trade deals will bring.

The US imposes tariffs of 25% on steel; removing them would boost our domestic industries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) knows, that will particularly benefit areas such as Yorkshire and the Humber, which account for more than a third of our iron and steel exports to the United States. Indeed, just this week UK Steel said:

“A new UK/US Free Trade Agreement would provide a significant boost to our trade to this high-value market, create a global-competitive advantage for UK steel producers, and open up valuable new market opportunities.”

Our farmers and food producers stand to gain from a trade deal with the US. The US is the world’s second largest importer of lamb, but current restrictions mean that British producers are kept out. We can also grow, for example, our malting barley exports from Scotland and the east of England.

The tech trade will benefit from a US free trade agreement through cutting-edge provisions on digital and data. Telecoms and tech have more than doubled in the past decade, and an ambitious FTA could see those exports grow further.

While free trade provides opportunities, protectionism would harm farmers, tech entrepreneurs and steel manufacturers. We have already seen this before: in 1930, the Smoot-Hawley Act raised US tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods, resulting in retaliation from other nations and the deepening and prolonging of the depression. As President Reagan said in 1985:

“Protectionism almost always ends up making the protected industry weaker and less able to compete against foreign imports…Instead of protectionism, we should call it destructionism. It destroys jobs, weakens our industries, harms exports, costs billions of dollars to consumers, and damages our overall economy.”

We have a golden opportunity to make sure that our recovery is export led and high value—a recovery that will see our industrial heartlands create more high-quality and high-paying jobs across all sectors. Free trade does not just benefit us here in Britain; it benefits the world. Since the end of the cold war, free trade has lifted a billion people out of extreme poverty. For want of a better word, free trade is good. It is those benefits that underpin our Government’s approach: free and fair trade fit for the modern world.

Let me turn to the contents of the Bill. We can have fair trade only if it is free trade. The Bill will embed market access for British companies by enabling the UK to join the WTO’s Government procurement agreement as an independent member. This will provide businesses with continued access to the extraordinary opportunities of the global procurement market, worth some £1.3 trillion a year. The GPA is an agreement between 20 parties that mutually opens up Government procurement. We have already seen in the UK the way that competition drives up quality while keeping prices low. The GPA keeps suppliers competitive and provides them with opportunities overseas. It is a driver of growth, not a threat to our economy. The idea that we can, or even should, do everything domestically is not desirable or practical in this increasingly interconnected world. Instead, we should be making sure that we have resilient supply chains through a more diverse range of partners. We will be an international champion for free and fair competition in the coming months and years through our discussions at the WTO, the G20 and bilaterally. We will urge other countries not to heed that false, but enticing, call for protectionism.

Let me be clear to the House: the GPA sets out rules for how public procurement covered by the agreement is carried out. As an independent member, we are free to decide what procurement is covered under the agreement. The UK’s GPA coverage does not and will not apply to the procurement of UK health services. Our NHS is not on the table.

We are also committed to continuing our trade with existing partners that have agreements through the EU, such as South Korea and Chile. To date, we have signed 20 such trade agreements representing 48 countries, and others are still under negotiation. This accounts for £110 billion of UK trade in 2018, which represents 74% of continuity trade. People said that we would not be able to roll over these agreements—well, they were wrong, and we will be signing more in the coming months. This work is part of securing the Government’s aim to have 80% of UK trade covered by free trade agreements in the next three years.

We are also looking to new partners. Negotiations with the US and Japan are kicking off. We are prioritising signing FTAs with Australia and New Zealand and accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, otherwise known as the CPTPP. With the UK global tariff now published, there will be an increased incentive for other countries to come to the table to maintain or improve upon their preferential terms and conditions. Fundamentally, free trade is humanitarian and we will maintain preferential margins for developing countries, helping businesses lift millions out of poverty. As a Government, we have committed to going further than the EU has in terms of trade for development, and we are looking at reducing or removing tariffs where the UK does not produce goods and getting rid of cliff edges in current tariff schedules.

That brings me to the second part of our approach: fair trade. The Bill will help establish the independent trade remedies authority, which will help protect British businesses against injury caused by unfair trading practices such as dumping or subsidy, or unforeseen import surges. I tell the House that while free trade has no stauncher friend than this Government, unfair trading practices that hold back British businesses will have no worse enemy. We will fight against state-owned enterprises that use public money to subsidise their goods and Governments who support the lobbying of these under-priced products into the UK market.

Excellent UK industries such as ceramics and steel—represented ably by my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), for Redcar (Jacob Young) and for Scunthorpe—should not face unfair trade. The TRA will be responsible for investigating claims of unfair trading practices based on the evidence available. It will then make impartial representations to Ministers.

The TRA’s impartiality is vital. Decisions on trade remedies cases can have a material impact on business and financial markets. This Bill will allow us to create an independent body to carry out objective investigations in which businesses can have full confidence. In developing our own trade policy for the first time in almost 50 years, we will use technology to ensure that our trade agreements are fit for the modern world. Therefore, this Bill will give the Government powers to collect and share the trade data that will help our independent trade policy. This will make it easier for our trade policy to reflect the interests of businesses across the UK.

Let me assure the House that this Bill is a continuity Bill. It cannot be used to implement any trade agreement between the UK and the EU itself, nor can it be used to implement an agreement with a country that did not have a trade agreement with the EU before exit day, such as the United States of America. The Bill can be used only to transition the 40 free trade agreements that the EU had signed with third countries by exit day, and these powers are subject to a five-year sunset clause to ensure that we can maintain the operability of transitioned agreements beyond the end of the transition period. Any extension of this five-year period will require explicit consent of both this House and the other place.

We face a period of unprecedented economic challenge. It is vital that we do not just maintain the current global trading system, but make it better. That means diversifying our trade and supporting those businesses that export. Exports, be they software or steel, cars or ceramics, barley or beef, will underpin our recovery. This Bill will ensure continued access to existing markets by letting us implement trade agreements with partner countries that previously applied under the EU. It will secure continued access for UK businesses to the £1.3 trillion global public procurement market. It establishes the independent body in the Trade Remedies Authority to give our great British businesses the protection they need from unfair trade practices. Trade will be fair as well as free. By adopting a cutting-edge digital first approach, we will be able to give businesses the best possible support.

As we recover from the economic shock of the coronavirus crisis, providing certainty and predictability in our trading arrangements will be vital to securing the interests of businesses and consumers. We will unleash the potential and level up every region and nation of our United Kingdom. Now is the time for this House to speak out against protectionism. It is time for us to embrace the opportunities that free trade and an export-led recovery will bring. I commend this Bill to the House.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I now call the shadow Secretary of State, Emily Thornberry, to move her reasoned amendment, and she has 10 minutes in which to speak.

14:42
Emily Thornberry Portrait Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House recognises that upon leaving the European Union, the UK will need effective legislation to implement agreements with partner countries corresponding to international trade agreements of the European Union in place before the UK’s exit, to implement procurement obligations arising from the UK becoming a member of the Government Procurement Agreement in its own right, to set out the basis of a Trade Remedies Authority to deliver the new UK trade remedies framework, and to establish the powers for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to collect and disclose data on goods and services exporters; but declines to give a Second Reading to the Trade Bill because it fails to set out proper procedures for Parliamentary consultation, scrutiny, debate and approval of future international trade agreements, fails to protect the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty in respect of the implementation of international trade agreements previously negotiated by the European Union and in respect of changes to existing government procurement regulations arising from the UK’s or other countries’ accession to the Government Procurement Agreement, fails to establish sufficient scrutiny procedures to replace those that have pertained while the UK has been a member of the European Union, fails to guarantee that the UK’s current high standards and rights will be protected in future trade agreements, and fails to render the Trade Remedies Authority answerable to Parliament or representative of the full range of stakeholders who should be included in its membership.

In moving this amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, I am conscious that, for many of us, there will be a strong sense of déjà vu: the personnel may have changed, but we have all been here before, with the same Bill, the same amendment, and the same arguments. For once, the Government are correct when they say that nothing has changed. The inescapable truth remains that this Trade Bill, as it currently stands, is a massive missed opportunity for the Government, for this Parliament and for our country.

For the past five decades, our trade policies have been set at European level. Indeed, there is not a single Member of this House who was in Parliament the last time the UK set its own trade policies, so, like it or not, this Bill carries an historic significance, and that is what I want to address today. Is this Bill, in its current form, fit to rise to its historic challenge? After five decades, in which we have seen tremendous upheaval in our global economy, does the Bill provide the legislative framework and the bold and far-reaching vision that we need to underpin Britain’s trade policies for several years to come? After five decades, does the Bill ensure that issues such as climate change and human rights, which were barely a consideration the last time the UK set its own trade policies, are now at the heart of our decision-making and central to our relationships overseas? And after five decades, does the Bill give a proper voice to the devolved Administrations, who did not even exist back then, and to all other private, public and civic-sector bodies whose ideas and insights constantly improve our policy-making and remind us that Whitehall does not know best? Finally, after five decades, does this Bill restore full sovereignty to Parliament over Britain’s trade policies, especially when it comes to the formulation, scrutiny and approval of new trade agreements? Those are the questions I asked myself. As I will explain, the answer that came back, on every front, was a resounding no—even worse, a warning cry that far from restoring the powers of Parliament when it comes to trade policy, this Bill erodes them to nothing.

Let me begin with the first question, namely whether this Bill gives us a legislative framework and a bold new vision for decades of trade policy to come. Here we find ourselves in the strange position of having Ministers themselves tell us that the answer is no. They say that there is nothing of significance in this legislation, and that it is simply a continuity Bill that is designed to maintain the status quo beyond 31 December. I will come back to whether that is right, especially in respect of new trade agreements, but one thing is for sure: there is no bold, long-term vision in this Bill. There is no great legislative framework for the future, and when it comes to the UK shaping its own trade policy after five long decades, this Bill certainly was not worth the wait.

That brings us to the second question, namely to what extent the Bill reflects the necessary and welcome widening of Britain’s trade policy objectives over five decades, and the extent to which it puts at the heart of our future trade agreements the issues of climate change, environmental protection, human rights, workers’ rights, sustainable development and gender equality. Again, we should all be ashamed to say that the answer is: not at all.

I will take just one of those issues, namely human rights. It is disappointing enough that the Government are failing to make it a key priority in negotiating new trade agreements, but what is truly damaging is the Government’s willingness to omit from their rolled-over trade agreements the human rights clauses that are now mandatory in all deals with the EU. If the Government want to refute that, the Minister of State has a simple task when he closes the debate later. He should guarantee that the rolled-over trade agreements that the Government are still trying to negotiate before 31 December with Cameroon and Egypt will both contain clauses enabling the UK to terminate the agreements if those countries continue their horrendous abuse of human rights. Will he ensure that the same policy applies to Turkey, Singapore, South Sudan and every other country with whom we are in negotiation?

The third question was whether the Bill marks a decisive break with the “Whitehall knows best” attitudes that dominated policy making five decades ago, and instead paves the way for Britain’s new trade policies to be formed in a transparent and inclusive way, for example by consulting the elected representatives of our regions and devolved Administrations, benefiting from the expertise of our development and environmental non-governmental organisations, or listening to the concerns of British businesses and their employees. Again, the answer, sadly, is no.

We see that most starkly when it comes to the Bill’s proposals for the membership of the trade remedies authority. That will be a vital body with a vital task, but it will have no guaranteed representation from the UK’s industry bodies and trade unions—the representatives of the people most affected by the unfair practices that the TRA is supposed to prevent. No wonder there are such concerns and suspicions that the Government’s true agenda for the TRA is not to defend Britain against underpriced imports, but somehow to balance the damage they do to domestic producers against the perceived benefits for domestic consumers. That is not the job of the trade remedies authority. That is why we instead need there to be proper representation on the board for the businesses and workers that it has been set up to defend, and why we need the TRA to be accountable to Parliament rather than Government.

That brings me to the final question, which is of the greatest immediate significance: whether, after five decades, this Bill succeeds in restoring parliamentary sovereignty over our country’s trade policies or whether, in fact, the opposite is true, as Members here and in the other place—all formidably led by my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)—have consistently said over the past two and a half years.

Let us take an example. The Secretary of State is a fan, it would seem, of the Government procurement agreement. As my colleagues have pointed out in the past, no matter how much we agree with the GPA, it is still incredible that the UK can accede to the GPA and MPs have no practical means to stop it; that the UK’s coverage schedules can be sent to the WTO and MPs have no opportunity to approve them; and that changes can be made in the future to the UK’s commitment under the GPA, and MPs will have less chance to scrutinise them than we did when Brussels was in charge and the European Scrutiny Committee was in place. So in an area such as Government procurement, the Bill does not advance parliamentary sovereignty—it does not even leave us standing still. The Bill takes us backwards.

Let us look at a more contentious area: new trade agreements. The Government have tried to convince us that, because the Bill only seeks to provide the basis to roll over existing agreements, we do not have to worry about the almost complete absence of accompanying parliamentary scrutiny or approval. But the reality is that in many cases there are or will be major differences between the UK’s third country agreement and the EU equivalent it is opposed to replicate.

Let us look at some of the examples we have seen. We have agreements with five countries in a trade bloc where the UK only covers three. We have EU agreements with mandatory clauses on human rights that the UK has agreed to drop. We have an EU agreement with Turkey based on a customs union, which the UK has explicitly rejected. We have an EU agreement with Japan, which both the Secretary of State and her Japanese counterpart have said our bilateral deal should go beyond, and that will doubtless be true of the Canada deal as well.

In short, we will end up with several major new trade deals all significantly different from their EU equivalents, but all subject to the same minimal amount of parliamentary scrutiny and approval, as proposed in the Trade Bill. That is not a restoration of parliamentary sovereignty. That is not anywhere near the gold standard of parliamentary consultation, scrutiny and approval of trade deals that we see in Australia or the United States. That is not therefore what I would call taking back control.

In conclusion, I believe that this Trade Bill offers a historic opportunity, but that opportunity has so far been missed. Instead of a bold, strategic vision for the future of our trade policy, we have a stopgap piece of legislation that even Ministers are trying to talk down. Instead of issues such as climate change and human rights being put at the heart of our trade policy, they have been ignored or consciously dropped. Instead of opening our trade policy to the expertise of others, the Government are denying them even a seat at the table. And instead of restoring Parliament’s sovereignty over trade policy, this Bill leaves MPs even more powerless than before. That is why I urge colleagues on both sides of the House to support the Opposition’s amendment. After five decades, let us spend the time and effort we need to get this historic Bill right.

14:53
Liam Fox Portrait Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con)
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I will not go over the detailed points in relation to the Bill so eloquently made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—I have to say that I recognised some of the phraseology in her arguments—but I want to deal with the context in which it is being brought forward.

During the long gestation of the Bill, a lot has changed. Not only have we had the covid crisis, which will have a fundamental effect on the global economy, but in 2019 we saw the culmination of many of the predictions that were made by the Department for International Trade. We predicted that we would see first a slowdown in the growth of global trade and then potentially a contraction of global trade itself. We watched through 2019 the WTO make predictions on global trade growth, down from 2.8% to 2.2% and 1.4%. It finally came in at 0.7%. The key element was that it contracted in Q4, which has generally in history presaged a downturn in the global economy.

That happened for a number of reasons. The US-China trade dispute had a general effect on global trade, and in particular we saw the shortening of global supply chains, as people sought to onshore and shorten global supply chains by minimising the import of intermediate goods. We saw the inevitable consequence of the trend over the decade of the G20 countries applying more and more non-tariff barriers to trade—quadrupling them in the first half of this decade—and they all matter. A bit of consumer protection here, a bit of environmental protection there and a bit of producer protection here are all justifiable in themselves, but they all add up. They have all resulted in a silting up of the global trading system, and the skies over the global trading system are now darkening with those chickens coming home to roost.

Why does it matter? It matters because a free and open trading system has been our route to the reduction in global poverty, with more than 1 billion people taken out of abject poverty in just one generation. There is another reason it matters, which is that access to prosperity, political stability and security are part of the same continuum. It is unthinkable that the wealthiest countries in the world should pull up the ladder behind us, stopping developing countries gaining access to the same levels of prosperity. It is absurd to believe that we can do that without seeing disruption in global security. If we deny people access to prosperity, do not be surprised if we see more mass migration and more radicalisation. We need to understand that we cannot separate the concepts. Those who wish to introduce protectionism into the global economy will have to bear the consequences of the actions they are currently embarked upon.

I want to see us, through this Bill and beyond, doing more on global trade liberalisation. Going back to where we were pre-covid will not be enough, because global trade was contracting. I was a proud Brexiteer, but I have never been a little Englander. My objection to the European Union in the era of globalisation was not the absurd notion that it was foreign, but that it was not foreign enough. It did not have global aspirations that were in tune with what we as a country wanted to see. Post covid, all the challenges we face together will be bigger, and we will have to work with all those who believe in free trade to put them right.

The UK exports 30% of our GDP. Germany exports 48% of its GDP, and OECD data shows that the trade slowdown has hit the European Union hardest of all in the global economy, with exports from the EU contracting by 1.8% in the third quarter of 2019, even before global trade itself contracted. That is the scale of the challenge that we face.

The Government’s proposed tariff regime reform is to be hugely welcomed, although it could be even more liberal yet. The new FTAs and the roll-over agreements allowed through the Bill are also to be welcomed. Those who put obstacles, political and otherwise, in the way of both the roll-over agreements and the new FTAs through largely pointless and irrelevant arguments need to understand the consequences to the wider global economy, as well as to our domestic prosperity, of doing so.

My right hon. Friend was right when she talked about the bigger picture and how we must champion World Trade Organisation reform. Without it, we will be unable to maintain the rules-based system, which is already substantially under threat. The alternative to a rules-based system is the survival of the strongest, and that will have the biggest impact on the poorest countries. This is an area where we can give a lead as a country not only economically, but morally.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call Stewart Hosie, who has seven minutes.

00:04
Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP) [V]
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May I start by agreeing with the Secretary of State that it is absolutely vital that we keep trade open and recognise the importance of the supply chain, and that it is absolutely essential that we stand against protectionism? We need to do that, because right now there are three main threats to trade. The first is self-evidently from the covid crisis, which the World Trade Organisation has suggested might cause a fall in global trade of something in the order of 13% to 32%. That is a substantial reduction, no matter where on the scale one looks. The second is the impact of Brexit. Assessments suggest that the UK could lose a substantial chunk of its global trade. The third is the more systemic problem that the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the ex-Trade Secretary, was speaking about, which is the continued implementation of new and the continuation of existing trade restriction measures, with tariffs valuing somewhere around $1.6 trillion in force.

I am not confident that those problems will be resolved any time soon, not least because there is as yet no cure for coronavirus and restrictions of one sort or another may well remain in force for some considerable time, because of the highly publicised lack of progress on the Brexit negotiations, and also, sadly, because of the absence of a functioning World Trade Organisation appellate body. This Trade Bill does not address any of those matters, other than perhaps at the margins, by trying to roll over and maintain the trade the UK has with third countries via membership of the EU and thereby minimise the losses from Brexit.

The Bill does do a number of other things, as the Secretary of State set out. It creates procurement obligations arising from membership of the GPA—the agreement on Government procurement; it creates the Trade Remedies Authority; and it gives powers to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to collect and share data. However, it is not without its problems. Let me deal with the powers relating to the devolved Administrations first. The previous Trade Bill, which was under consideration in the previous Parliament, contained provision for regulation-making powers to be available to the UK Government within areas of devolved competence. That Bill also contained a provision that prohibited devolved Administrations from using powers to modify retained direct EU legislation or anything that was retained EU law by virtue of section 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) 2018 Act in ways that would be inconsistent with any modifications made by the UK Government, even in devolved areas. As a result, the Scottish Government could not consent to that, and that view was shared by the Scottish Parliament Finance and Constitution Committee.

That Trade Bill did not complete its passage and fell, and the good news is that those provisions have been removed from this reintroduced Trade Bill. However, there remains no statutory obligation for the UK Government to consult or seek the consent of Scottish Ministers before exercising the powers they have in devolved areas. However, during the partial passage of the previous Trade Bill, the UK Government made a commitment to avoid using the powers in the Bill in devolved areas without consulting and ideally obtaining the consent of Scottish Ministers. The then Minister of State at the Department for International Trade, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), subsequently restated those commitments in his letter to Ivan McKee, the Scottish Trade Minister, on 18 March, and I hope that the Minister we hear from today will restate these non-legislative commitments.

The Bill is not without its problems, and they do not relate simply to the devolved Administrations. It allows the UK Government to modify retained direct principal EU law, and it appears to me that there are no legislative limits on such modifications. The second problem is the description of an “international trade agreement” in clause 2(2)(b), which states that it may be

“an international agreement that mainly relates to trade, other than a free trade agreement.”

As we know, modern agreements are as much about regulation, standards, conformance, dispute resolution or food safety as they are about quotas and tariffs. Many people will uncomfortable that Ministers can modify existing agreements in the way in which this Bill permits, particularly without scrutiny and consent.

That leads me to the fundamental problem with the Bill. The absence of parliamentary scrutiny and a parliamentary vote on significant changes or modifications, or, indeed, in the future, on new trade deals as may be envisaged by the Government, is a huge problem. Modern democracies need to have full scrutiny of trade agreements, from the scope of the negotiating mandate right through to implementation. That is absent from this Bill, as is any provision for scrutiny other than through the voluntary scrutiny proposed by the Government in the Command Paper published in the previous Parliament, to which I will return briefly at the end of my speech.

These issues also highlight the absence of any formal input into trade deals or significant modification of existing ones by the devolved Administrations—a problem replicated in the membership of the Trade Remedies Authority, where no formal ability exists for the devolved Administrations to propose or nominate a member with expertise in regionally or nationally significant trade.

I shall turn briefly to the Command Paper that was published in 2019 and covered the previous Trade Bill. Does it still apply? Does the commitment to publishing our negotiating objectives and scoping assessments still exist? Even if it does, does the Minister recognise that that still does not give Parliament or the devolved Administrations any role in approving them? Is it still the intention of the UK Government to provide sensitive information to a scrutiny Committee? Would that be the Select Committee on International Trade, which is ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil)? If it is, will any papers provided be publishable, or will they be restricted? If they are restricted, that will still leave Members of Parliament, exporting businesses and other interested third parties none the wiser about the Government’s real intentions. I am conscious of the limited time, Madam Deputy Speaker, so let me end simply by saying—

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bring his remarks to a close. I thank him for his contribution, but we must move on. I am now introducing a time limit of five minutes, and I advise hon. Members who are speaking virtually to have a timing device visible.

15:06
Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con) [V]
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Now that we have left the EU, it seems that 20 continuity agreements have been signed with some 48 countries and that a further 20 have been negotiated, so will the Minister confirm whether there are any countries that do not wish to deal with us at the current time? It seems that Canada and Japan are refusing to be rolled over, so to speak, and want to start negotiating from scratch, so should we not now treat these unsigned countries as new FTAs, rather than including them in this EU roll-over package? Does not clause 2 in effect represent a moment of time that has now passed? In that regard, I think we should take this opportunity to recognise the friendly and co-operative attitude of those countries, such as Switzerland, Israel and Georgia, that did sign up before Brexit.

I understand the need for statutory instruments to be used to effect these roll-overs, but will the Minister confirm that, for the most part, they will be transcribed into our laws by the withdrawal Act, and that these SIs are effectively intended to deal with deal variations? The problem that we debated on the Trade Bill two years ago was that the statutory instruments’ scope could be so wide that they could be used as a Henry VIII provision for anything to do with the roll-over countries other than tariffs. Indeed, I cannot see how it is possible that they could not be used as part of a deal to issue visas, say, in return for trade access, or indeed to add on military or intelligence provisions. I believe that this could apply to amendments made to these deals for five years, even after they have been initially concluded. For instance, I do not see that there is any level of deviation from the EU deals with such counties that would necessitate a Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process. This situation led to no little disquiet last time this Bill came around, and the Government eventually came up with amendments that have now only partly been readopted.

When the Bill was debated two years ago, the first change that was made was to make the SIs affirmative. That has been retained, which is welcome. The second change was to have a three-year sunset period, and that has now been changed to five years, which seems unnecessary. The third change was to have reports produced by the Minister before the first SI, setting out all the proposed changes. In practice, this is sensible in that it will assist scrutiny and also provide a framework if there are multiple SIs. The Minister advised me that he was supportive of using reports, but he did not think they needed to be legislated for. Parliament might like to look at that again.

The fourth change was to provide that these reports should be laid 10 sitting days in advance of the first SI. This would allow comment to be made before the SI was laid, which would be more effective from a scrutiny point of view. Ministers have suggested that this procedure will be used to tie up loose ends or legislate for trade-related variations, but they will appreciate that we as legislators need to scrutinise this legislation with an eye on what it could be used for.

When the Trade Bill was debated two years ago, Parliament was promised a new FTA scrutiny regime, yet we have not put that in place, despite trade talks with the US starting. Now that Brexit has happened, the Commons has lost its European standing Committee, which reviewed the EU’s monitoring and negotiation of trade agreements. No equivalent Committee has been formed to replace it, and we have obviously lost the scrutiny previously provided by the EU itself. Keep in mind that the European Parliament’s consent to a new treaty is needed, in a way that does not happen in the UK, where there is no obligation to inform or consult Parliament, no structures for reviewing treaties, and no debate or approval needed prior to signature. There is only the CRAG process to delay ratification, which, in its April 2019 report on scrutiny of treaties, the Lords Constitution Committee described as “anachronistic and inadequate”.

I am not calling for an end to the prerogative power to agree treaties—although we need to appreciate that many pressure groups are—nor am I calling for Parliament to be able to amend draft treaties as the US Senate can, but I am calling for a proper process whereby policy objectives of treaty negotiations are published at the outset and treaty rounds are reported on. If Parliament is not to get a veto, at least CRAG should be reformed. I suggest that should include a new Commons treaty Committee and extending CRAG debates and presentation periods so that they are made more user-friendly. Brexit should involve more UK scrutiny of FTAs, not less.

15:11
Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP) [V]
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As we all know, this is a reheated Trade Bill. Sometimes a meal can be all the better for the reheating—it can be better the following day—but sadly, despite all the advice and help that was given on the Trade Bill in the last Parliament, that has not come to be this time. It remains much a dog’s breakfast, with great criticism attached to it and much under-delivery on what is required.

The Bill essentially has two strands to it: the roll-over of free trade agreements and the creation of the TRA. Before we go too far on the roll-over, we almost have to take a step back. If we are indeed looking to roll over EU trade agreements that currently affect us, are we not just admitting that the EU has done quite a good job of arranging trade agreements—so much so that we want to copy them to the letter?

In fact, when we go to copy some of the trade agreements, we find we cannot replicate them. I remember raising in Committee the trade agreement with South Korea, which states that, in the automotive sector, if motor vehicles have 55% local content, the tariff can be exported. Alas, the UK alone cannot do that. The EU can do that—it has a 500 million-odd population and consumers, and the parts come from all parts of its manufacturing base—but the UK cannot take advantage of a rolled-over EU-Korea deal the way it is written at the moment. There are many things lacking at that stage.

On the Trade Remedies Authority, again, much advice has been given about what could happen and what is not happening, and it is a shame that the Government are not listening and refuse to listen to many people. There are many concerns, particularly in the ceramics trade. The TRA was set going on a wing and a prayer. We could have had Brexit long ago, and the reality is that the UK was not prepared. It still is not prepared.

We do not have the scrutiny in place. We do not have the scrutiny that my Committee called for in the last Parliament for the devolved Parliaments, but even if we take a Westminster-centric view of this, we do not have the scrutiny for parliamentarians at Westminster either. Again, the Government have missed the opportunity to get this right, and that is a huge pity. It could have been enshrined in the legislation. It is not enshrined. The opportunity has been missed.

There was an opportunity to avoid the pitfalls of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The European Union and many others have learned that trade negotiations conducted in secret do not get very far and that the population will eventually rebel, as was seen with TTIP. People have learned, but sadly it seems that the UK Government have not learned from that or, indeed, from the passage of their own Bill, which fell at the last parliamentary election, back in December.

NHS procurement should be taken care of. Wearing my constituency hat, a lot of constituents have written to me with concerns about the NHS—about making sure that there are NHS-specific carve-outs, that there is no negative listing affecting the NHS, that there are no standstill clauses, that the NHS is immune from the investor-state dispute settlement possibilities, and that there is no Americanisation of our drug situation in the United Kingdom. Particularly at this point, when the NHS is fighting coronavirus, but at all times in fact, it is incumbent on Parliament and the Government to back the NHS and make sure it is safe and protected.

The Secretary of State mentioned the USA trade deal. We have to take a step back and look at exactly what has been achieved, or the Government have tried to achieve. The USA trade deal will add only about 0.2% to the UK’s GDP, compared with the 6% that will probably be lost after Brexit—about one thirtieth of that. Given that America represents a quarter of the world’s GDP, even a trade deal with every country in the world will not make up the huge gap left by Brexit.

Finally, the Secretary of State began by saying she would do whatever it took to keep Britain trading, as she put it. Surely, at this point, “doing whatever it takes” would include staying away from this disastrously ruinous Brexit, or, at the very least, having the humility to postpone it during the pandemic. This hell-for-leather approach of going for the cliff edge this December is not what business needs at this time, or what the population needs. It is not what any of us needs at this time. If the Government are still too proud to realise that Brexit is a mistake, they should at least delay it, perhaps for one or two centuries.

15:16
Mark Menzies Portrait Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con) [V]
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It is my great privilege to follow my friend and Chair of the International Trade Committee in this incredibly important debate. The Leader of the House said earlier that these proceedings sometimes appear stilted and scripted when done remotely. It is my challenge over the next five minutes to prove him wrong.

In my part of Lancashire, international trade is critical for jobs and prosperity. I am host to fabulous, world-class companies, such as BAE Systems and Westinghouse, the nuclear fuels manufacturer, and smaller companies such as Tangerine Holdings. The Bill is very much about the whole nature of international trade—getting that right and building a framework that will stand the test of time—and that is one reason I support its Second Reading today.

It is also my privilege to serve as one of the Government’s trade envoys. Indeed, the Secretary of State, in her opening remarks, referred to Chile as an example of one of the 48 countries with which a continuity agreement has been put in place. I would say to her that some of my other countries, through the Andean trade continuity agreements, such as Peru and Colombia, also have arrangements to ensure a smooth transition when the UK eventually leaves the EU at the end of this year.

T hat has not happened by chance. Those agreements are in place because of the dedication and hard work of people in the Department, not just in London, but especially in post. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women, many of whom are nationals of the countries they represent, who work tirelessly and understand the nature of their countries in a way that is sometimes difficult to comprehend from London. Their dedication and hard work have got us to where we are today. That sometimes gets missed.

We also have to recognise that the Trade Bill is only part of the picture. Measures such as the many double taxation agreements—there is one in place with one of my countries, Colombia—are really important to ensuring a smooth transition and the financial flows that will come from trade. The Government have been working very hard on that in the last couple of years, but there is still more work to be done in other key markets across the globe.

There has been much fixation in recent years on trade deals, but they are only part of the picture; much of this is about a smooth transition from the EU arrangements to what comes next. If we are unable in this House to demonstrate to our key countries and partners across the globe that we can pass a piece of legislation, why on earth should we be asking our officials and trade envoys to make representations to senators and presidents to get agreements in place so that when we leave we can have that smooth transition? I therefore urge the House to get behind the Bill and to give it a Second Reading unamended.

I would like to take this opportunity, however, to challenge the Government on how we plan to use some of the data-collection powers in the Bill. For example, I would like to see some of the data sharing in HMRC to be used to reshape and rescope bodies such as UK Export Finance, because in all of my key markets we only ever reach a tiny percentage of the credit facilities that we say are available. Given that London is the global capital of fancy credit mechanisms, I urge the Minister—it is great to see him in his rightful place—to use some of the expertise in the City and to challenge whether UK Export Finance needs to be given the opportunity to evolve in order to take advantage of some of the real opportunities that are out there.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I have followed your example and set a timer, so in my closing seconds let me just say that free trade is important, not just as a sign of national prestige, but because it creates jobs and generates the wealth to pay for public services at home and, more importantly, abroad. At a time of rising unemployment, my goodness, we need free trade more than ever, so I will be supporting this Bill in its passage through Parliament.

15:21
Darren Jones Portrait Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab) [V]
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According to research from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Growth Lab, British exports have been declining, concentrating into a smaller number of products and acting as a drag on our economic growth. Remarkably, in the past decade the UK has added only two new export products, and, perhaps embarrassingly, our main new export has been bovine, sheep and goat fat. I declare my interest as an amateur vegan, but I suggest that an economy that is as complex and capable as ours really ought to have done better.

We know that economic growth can be driven by export diversification, but to do that we need an active industrial strategy that works with the market to make clear what we actually want to achieve while investing in workers with the skills to do it. Some colleagues will say, “Ah, but it was the European Union’s job, and now that we are taking back control, it will be much better and the Bill will help us do that.” I would respectfully compare the UK’s record to, for example, that of France, which is, of course, a member of the European Union. During the same timeframe in which the UK majored on bovine, sheep and goat fats, and added around $2 per capita, with a total UK market of $104 million, France has managed to add 10 new projects, creating a new $1.9 billion market and growing GDP per capita by $28. It has therefore been a question of intent and ability, not a question of power.

Based on current capacity, the UK has a pretty good spread of manufacturing capabilities, from chemicals and machinery to automotive, gas turbines and aerospace, but the bulk of our goods-based growth has come from aerospace and automotive, whose capacity relies on European supply chains. Based on current Brexit negotiations, those supply chains are at risk, as well as under added pressure from the pandemic. The Government have largely relied on services-based growth in our economy, which of course is an important part of what we do as a country, but they took their eye off the ball in respect of British manufacturing, resulting in a weaker and more exposed market for goods, exports and economic growth.

That is the context for this Bill, because the questions that we are considering today have been with us in one form or another for the past four years. Most of the provisions in front of us today first came before the House a few months after I was elected in 2017. By any measure, this legislation has taken too long. The priorities given force in the Bill, and which even now run through all the arguments on trade made by those on the Treasury Bench, are the same arguments we have heard over the period of trading inadequacy that I have just set out. The economy is in recession and we are on the cusp of a once-in-a-century collapse in output. The key test is whether the Government are committed to bringing back British manufacturing as a core component of the British economy.

In closing, I would like to ask the Minister to answer a number of questions when summing up the debate. First, will he set out for the House whether Parliament will be given the right to full and transparent scrutiny of the trade negotiations, and confirm whether that will be by a new or existing Committee of this House? As a former member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I note that we had such a function when the European Union was negotiating trade deals, but that does not seem to be replicated in the Bill.

Secondly, local government leaders are in the process of setting out recovery plans post pandemic. What conversations is the Department having with city leaders to ensure that those leaders on the ground have input into decisions made in Whitehall?

Thirdly, Ministers have long said, whether in Brexit or trade debates, that the Government will stand by their commitment to human rights, workers’ rights and environmental protections, but this Bill does not mention climate change or workers’ rights at all. Britain has an opportunity to set the global expectation on these issues. I would like to understand why the Government have not included such provisions. There is a significant opportunity to couple climate diplomacy with export opportunities as we work to help other countries to transition to net zero. I hope the Minister will confirm that these opportunities are also being considered by the Department.

As an anti-modern slavery champion for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I have seen first hand the risks of global supply chains that do not have adequate protections and transparency built in. No work or business in the UK wants to be associated with illegal trafficking and exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. I hope the Minister can set out how the Government intend to ensure that these protections are included in all future trade deals.

15:25
John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) [V]
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You do not need to pay to trade: I welcome the policy behind this legislation and the Bill itself, which makes it very clear that the United Kingdom wishes to be a positive trade partner with as many countries around the world as would like a free trade agreement with us. This Bill ensures that we can carry across the FTAs that the EU has with a range of countries that naturally fall to transit to us as well as to it. Many of us were told that we were wrong when we argued that during the referendum and afterwards, but the Government have proved us right in that of course those countries wish to roll over those agreements. In one or two cases, they wish to go considerably further than the agreements we already have. I welcome the Government’s positive response to that to see what more can be added so that we can have a better deal as we leave the European Union than we had when we were in it.

We must see the policy background to this Bill as including the most important letter written this week by our trade negotiator to Mr Barnier about the parallel negotiations for a possible UK-EU free trade agreement. It is an admirably lucid letter which makes it very clear that, just as in this Bill, we are not sacrificing our fish, offering special payments or agreeing to accept the laws of other countries in order to create a free trade agreement with them, and neither should we do so in the case of the European Union. We voted very clearly to leave the single market and to leave the customs union. Many of us who voted that way strongly believed then, and believe even more so today, that we want a free trade-based agreement with the European Union if that is also its wish, but we would rather trade with it under WTO rules and the excellent new tariff we have set out for external trade if it wishes instead to claim that we need to be some kind of surrogate member taking its laws, paying its bills and accepting many of its views on matters like our fish resources.

It is more likely that we will get a free trade agreement from a reluctant European Union just before the deadline at the end of the year if we have made great progress in negotiating free trade deals elsewhere. That is why the Government are absolutely right to respond very positively to the United States of America, to Japan, to Australia, to New Zealand and to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In each of those cases, the counter-party is very willing. In each of those cases, there are precedents for good agreements between other parts of the world and those countries, and we can build on those and our own models for a positive free trade arrangement.

The EU will see how relatively easy it is to make such progress with those countries we have agreements with. When we were in the EU, the EU had not got round to having agreements with some of those countries—big countries such as the United States of America. When we are outside the EU, that will make the EU even keener to want to have a free trade agreement with us. Rather reluctantly, it will have to admit that it has been making a mistake over these past years in trying to make our exit so protracted and so difficult, and claiming that you do need to pay for trade.

I will vote for the Bill as vindication that, of course, many countries wish to trade with us on as free a basis as possible. I will vote for it as part of a much bigger package of a free trade loving United Kingdom driving a free trade agenda around the world. I will vote for it because it sends a clear message to the European Union that it is negotiating in the wrong way and running the danger of ending up without a free trade agreement that is rather more in its interests than ours, given the asymmetry of our trade.

Free trade is a good way to promote prosperity. It is even more vital now we need to recover our economies from the covid-19 crisis. I urge the EU to understand that and to co-operate sensibly, just as I give the Government full support to press ahead in negotiating deals with all those great countries and regions of the world that think Britain is a hugely important future partner, and where we see fast-growing trade that can enrich both sides.

00:01
Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)
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Several of my hon. Friends have made the point that current parliamentary procedure is totally inadequate if we are to scrutinise properly and have proper parliamentary oversight of trade deals negotiated by the Government. We are, of course, supportive of mechanisms that will enable the UK to transition from being a member of the EU so that we can enter into our own trade agreements and into international trade conventions through organisations such as the WTO. This Bill, however, does nothing to promote transparency or that proper scrutiny that this House and the country deserve. Therefore, I, and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will not support the Bill.

The fact that the Bill is being pushed through in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic means that the importance that would normally be attached to such legislation is being overlooked. The current life-and-death crisis, which has been exacerbated by this Government’s bad management, is totally overshadowing it. The crisis not only overshadows this Bill, but will overshadow much of the legislation that will pass through this House in the coming weeks and months. In addition, the inevitable negative economic impact of a Brexit cliff edge, following the end of the EU exit transition period, can easily be pinned on the coronavirus crisis.

The Bill will lead to trade deals that will have huge implications for our economy and our global alliances well into the future. At the moment, the current and planned continuity trade talks between the UK and the EU are taking place at the same time as preliminary discussions between the UK and United States. The crisis provides perfect cover from view, so those discussions can happen with little scrutiny by this House and little attention from the media to inform the public.

As much as I would like to see a good trade deal with the EU, I am not one of those arguing for an extension of the transitional period. If I thought that the Government wanted anything that looked like a good trade deal with the EU, an extension would probably be a good idea, but I do not think they do. Many Conservative Back Benchers and some of those on the Government Front Bench do not want a deal with the EU and would be quite happy to throw their lot in with any trade deal with the United States—the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) is among them.

If the Conservative party wanted a good EU trade deal, it could have had an agreement with the Labour party last year when we were debating our EU exit, and the path would have been set—but the Government did not want that. Now, of course, in the Government’s proposals for a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, they are asking for many of the benefits of EU membership without the costs that that membership brings. Having said that, there will still be a large divorce bill running into billions of euros for the UK to cough up, and the clock is still ticking. My bet is that any agreement on trade with the EU will be a fig leaf to hide the embarrassment of the years of discussion and negotiation.

The elephant in the room is, and always was, the United States and what the current President wants for the future. I ask myself, “Why are there two sets of trade discussions—UK-EU and UK-US—going on at the same time?” The Secretary of State for International Trade may claim that the fact that the discussions with the EU are already under way might give the UK some leverage to get better terms from the US in specific areas but, in a likely no-deal outcome or the fig-leaf agreement that I mentioned earlier, any discussions seem extremely unlikely.

In addition, for the moment, the US under President Trump will probably seek only a preliminary agreement that he can wave around for re-election purposes in November. However, if Trump wins again, he will demand that the UK has minimal trading arrangements with the EU and that the UK conforms with US norms through mutual recognition agreements, replacing EU regulations on goods, services and agricultural products, for example. This Bill is leading the UK down the slippery slope of a Government who are becoming less accountable to Parliament and the people of this country, trade relations that are not in the best interests of the people of this country and an economic future over which we have less and less control.

15:35
Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con) [V]
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I wish to speak in support of the Bill, but also to address the importance of scrutiny by Parliament of digital trade provisions in proposed future UK trading agreements. This is a vital and fast-moving sector that is very important to the British economy. Technology touches almost all aspects of our national life, as indeed these proceedings themselves make clear.

One of the most important new trade agreements being negotiated right now is the one with the United States, but we need to make sure that the digital trade provisions of a deal do not impact on other areas of domestic law, in particular our ability to legislate to create new responsibilities for large social media companies to act against harmful content online. The example of the recently negotiated trade deal between the USA, Canada and Mexico, which I understand is the basis for the start of the American approach to negotiations with the UK, shows how the danger can lie in the detail of these agreements.

The agreement states that the signatories shall not

“adopt or maintain measures that treat a supplier or user of an interactive computer service as an information content provider in determining liability for harms related to information stored, processed, transmitted, distributed, or made available by the service, except to the extent the supplier or user has, in whole or in part, created, or developed the information.”

What that means, in short, is that while a social media platform can be used to disseminate harmful content, and indeed the algorithms of that platform could be used to promote it, the liability lies solely with the person who created that content, and it could be impossible to identify that person, except perhaps through data held by the social media platform they have used. In this context, the harmful content being shared on social media could include a wide range of dangerous material from content that promotes fraud, violent conduct, self-harm, cyber-bullying or unlawful interference in elections. This provision was included in the US-Canada-Mexico trade agreement, despite opposition from prominent members of the United States Congress, including the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Senators Mark Warner and Ted Cruz.

The provision is based on the provisions in US law known as section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act. Section 230 provides broad unconditional immunity to internet platforms from civil liability for unlawful third-party content they distribute. This sweeping immunity gives internet-based entities an unnecessary and unfair commercial advantage over various law-abiding bricks-and-mortar businesses and content creators. Section 230 immunity is unconditional. The platform can even be designed to attract illegal or harmful content, to know about that illegal or harmful content, have a role in generating and editing it, actively increase its reach and refuse to do anything about it, profit from it and help hide the identity of third-party lawbreakers, and still not be civilly liable.

The grant of immunity for online services under section 230 was supposed to be in exchange for the act of voluntary filtering in a proactive and effective way, yet we all know that there are constant complaints about the failure of major tech companies to act as swiftly as we would like to see against content that could cause harm to others. If such a provision were required in the UK-US trade agreement, it would severely limit our ability to tackle online harms, as we would be prevented from creating legal liabilities, or to tackle companies failing in their duty of care to act against harmful content.

This prompts the question whether international trade agreements should be used to fix such important matters of domestic policy. There is growing cross-party consensus on that point in the US Congress as well. In the UK, these should always be matters on which Parliament has the last word. Indeed, in America, those who have advocated the inclusion of section 230 provisions in trade agreements, do so knowing that they will make it harder for them to be removed in US law itself. The Secretary of State for International Trade has assured me that the Government will not accept trade agreements that would limit the scope of Parliament to legislate to create responsibilities to act against harmful content online. I agree with her that that should be our priority, but we need to understand that that will require a different approach to the negotiations on digital trade from that which was followed by Canada with America. We should not include the provisions based on section 230 in a UK-US trade agreement.

Having trade agreements for digital services, data and technology with other major markets around the world is greatly in our national interest, but we need to make sure that they give us the freedom to act against known harms and the freedom to enforce standards designed to protect the public interest, just as we would seek to do in any other industry.

00:08
Craig Williams Portrait Craig Williams (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
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It is a great privilege to take part in this debate. This Bill and this policy area will be one of the most important for my rural constituency of Montgomeryshire. Trade with the outside world and continuing trade with the EU is incredibly important to my agricultural community, as it is to other services and to manufacturing goods.

At the outset, I would like to welcome the 20 continuity trade agreements we have already rolled over. I would very much welcome an update from the Minister on the remaining, with an honest assessment of trade treaties, perhaps with Canada and other countries. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to David Frost, Sir Tim Barrow and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology in Brussels for their continuing work. People talk about a lack of scrutiny, but it took me less than 20 seconds to check the update on that particular treaty, check the draft legal texts that are published on the website and read the most recent correspondence from David Frost to his counterparts. I cannot see a treaty being dealt with in so much light as that one currently is.

I want to focus my contribution on agriculture under the scope of the Bill and on trade policy going forward. We have not done trade policy directly as a Parliament, as a Government or as a country for some 40 years. We devolved or evolved or passed that power over to the European Union. Any Member or person in the United Kingdom who wants to hold up the European Union as a body one would want to replicate in terms of scrutiny obviously has not been participating in public discourse over the past five years.

I welcome much of what is in the Bill, but I seek reassurances on agriculture in particular. We produce high quality produce in this country and we are proud of our exports. We are proud of what our farmers are doing in the current covid-19 crisis to supply our domestic suppliers. I think public discourse on food supply is changing. Public discourse is changing on the robustness and the resilience of our supply networks. We have seen first-hand, through the work of the International Trade Committee, what has happened to some trade deals when national Governments have looked at their domestic supplies of pharmaceuticals and food stuffs during this crisis. We need to be very mindful of that as we put new trade deals in place.

Trade is vital for carcase balancing, the ability to sell cuts that the UK market does not want, and for dealing with demand shocks and seasonal issues. Trade is hugely important to my farmers, but I feel that because this subject has been dealt with in the European Union over the past 40 years there is a lot of misinformation. There is not a great deal of clarity on trade policy or how trade deals are put together. I implore the Minister and the Government to put in place some kind of communication package to explain what it means now that we have these important powers and what it means to be negotiating with the world as UK plc.

Last week there was a conflation of import standards with domestic standards and tariffs. It was hugely complicated and hugely frustrating to deal with that conflation of information. In a domestic Bill dealing with import standards, and sanitary and phytosanitary issues on top of that, we need to be clear with our constituents and our businesses what standards we are talking about and what impact the deals will have on our agricultural communities. I implore the Minister not just to engage with the farming unions—the Farmers’ Union of Wales and the NFU Cymru in my case; and I know the Minister has been on Zoom with them this week—but to build a relationship directly with farming communities, too. The unions of course conduct a great political campaign to promote their members’ views, but we need to engage directly. The unions of course conduct a great political campaign to promote their members’ views, but we need to engage directly.

We must maintain our import standards. I very much welcome the Minister’s public commitments, made at the Dispatch Box, to maintain the bans on chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef. We must be clear that those import standards are staying and that we have the back of the agricultural community in this country. While we look at the resilience of our supply chains and the great opportunities that new trade deals with the outside world present, we must reassure and earn trust. Minister, I have to report back that, in the agricultural community, mainly because of misinformation and miscommunication, we are looking to you to earn that trust and make us some great deals.

15:45
Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab)
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The Trade Bill is a bad Bill. It is bad because it fails to establish a proper framework whereby Parliament can scrutinise, ratify and implement all future international trade treaties; because it creates one of the weakest trade remedy authorities in the world, and because it pretends that it is necessary to roll over our existing agreements with third countries through the EU. So necessary is the measure that the Minister will have great difficulty when summing up in explaining how the Government have managed to roll over the majority of them before the Bill has passed into law. This is legislative prestidigitation of the highest order. The Government say that they need the Bill to do what they proudly boast they have already succeeded in doing without it. The truth is that the Bill is about the Government’s abrogating to themselves all future power in relation to trade agreements, freed from the inconvenient scrutiny of Parliament.

The procedure for ratifying international agreements is set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—CRAGA. It stipulates that any treaty need only be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days. If there is no vote against it during that period, it passes into law. But the Government decide Parliament’s business and can simply arrange that no vote takes place. When CRAGA was introduced, a huge number of democratic scrutiny processes were in place through the European Union. There was the European Council’s negotiation mandate and formal consultation procedures. The Committee on International Trade—the INTA Committee —scrutinised treaties before passing them to the European Parliament to vote on. Treaties then came to the European Scrutiny Committee in the Commons for further examination before the CRAGA process ratified them. Under the Bill, all that is left is the rubber stamp of CRAGA. All other layers are gone. The Bill should try to replace those layers. It cannot be right that there is no democratic oversight whatsoever of trade agreements.

Members of Parliament may disagree about whether an agreement will benefit jobs or adequately protect standards, but they should have at least the right to debate those matters and hold the Government to account. The Bill denies us that right. This is not Parliament taking back control, but Government snatching it from Parliament. That is why I believe the Bill is dangerous.

Let me remind Conservative Members of what they claimed to be fighting for at the last general election. They said that sovereignty meant not accepting the rulings of supranational courts such as the European Court of Justice. Do they therefore agree with us that the use of investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms in future trade agreements should be ruled out in any form? They give higher rights to foreign investors than to our own domestic companies, allowing them to sue our Government in private courts for policy decisions that have an impact on their potential profits. So much for gaining freedom from a supranational court.

Conservative Members said that Britain had to be free to chart its own future in the world. Do they therefore agree that negative lists of services should be banned? It is impossible to specify in a list a service that has not yet been invented. The negative list process would stop the UK Government making a decision about how such services should be provided in future. So much for making our own way in the world.

Conservative Members said that they would safeguard our domestic environmental protections, food safety regulations and animal welfare laws, but simply keeping our regulations for our farmers here does not protect them in a free trade agreement. Allowing the importation of goods produced elsewhere to lower standards will undermine our producers and lead to a race to the bottom—so much for safeguarding our food and welfare standards.

The Government said they would not sell off the NHS, and of course they cannot. The NHS is not an entity that can be sold, but free trade agreements can contain an innocuous-sounding provision about the restructuring of pharmaceutical pricing models. That is the way to undermine the health service—by downgrading our bulk purchasing power against big pharma companies. So much for the NHS being “safe” in their hands.

Finally, does it follow that if this Bill is enacted, by necessity we will end up with all these measures? No, it does not. It does mean, however, that if they exist in any proposed FDA, Parliament will have no means of stopping that. This debate is about more than trade; it is about the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive. It is about the sovereignty of Parliament—something that every Tory who will vote for this obnoxious Bill swore in their manifesto to defend.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I am afraid we cannot hear Richard Graham at the moment, so I will now call Robert Courts.

15:50
Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con) [V]
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It is an honour to speak in this debate and to participate in the detail of the Bill with my colleagues from the International Trade Committee. I am pleased that so many of them are taking part in this debate. Free and open trade has created the world in which we live—a world that is open, prosperous, and inventive. One of the greatest prizes to be seized by any Government is the ability to carry out an independent trade policy, which is what we are doing today.

Why does trade matter in the first place? It is pretty straightforward. Exporters and their supply chains are responsible for millions of jobs in the UK. Countries whose economies are open have higher productivity, because of competitive pressures and greater specialisation. Analysis by the Department for International Trade suggests that businesses that export goods are around 21% more productive than their non-exporting counterparts. Those exporters provide a larger proportion of UK manufacturing and labour productivity growth.

However, we can do so much better that we currently do. That same survey data suggests that 250,000 to 350,000 UK businesses have tradeable goods and services, but do not currently trade internationally. When we couple that with the undoubted, unquestionable benefit of the UK brand, which has fans from North America to China and everywhere in between, this is an opportunity for each and every one of us throughout the country. When we consider the potential benefits of a US trade deal alone, and the possibility of bilateral trade increasing by more than £15 billion, increasing wages by £1.8 billion and benefiting every area of the country, we see the extraordinary prize that lies before us. All that is before we even start to consider the exponential growth that is likely to come from the developing world in the next 10 to 20 years.

It is foolish to see trade as some game of numbers that is reduced to statistics. People have traded together since one cave dweller traded food for tools in the dim and distant past, and what trade starts, friendships continue. Whether it was Bastiat, or someone else, who said that when goods do not trek across borders, soldiers will, the essence of that remains true, as is its flipside. Trade helps people to understand each other and get to know something of the way that other societies work. That must be delivered through an independent trade policy—one that applies our priorities to our country, and does not let somebody else’s priorities be applied for us.

Those who say that the Bill does not make provision for high standards must know that this is not the place for that; this Bill sets the framework for the conversations that are to come. In any event, the Government have been crystal clear about our ambitions for the future. As the Prime Minister said in his speech on 3 February,

“we will not accept any diminution in food hygiene or animal welfare standards… We are not leaving the EU to undermine European standards. We will not engage in any kind of dumping, whether commercial, social or environmental.”

However, having high standards is not the same thing as letting others set them for us, or seeking to control the way that others regulate their industries. If, in any event, we want to set trade defences, barriers or tariffs, we will need the Trade Remedies Authority that is set out in the Bill.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that those who object to the Bill as it stands are those who object to free trade in general and wish to cling to the old-fashioned protectionist agenda that was defeated in this country more than 100 years ago. Protectionism will always have an appeal for those who wish to protect vested interests, but we should be clear: history makes it clear that protectionism leaves everybody the poorer, and the poorest worse of all. That is all the clearer when we look at the impact of the current crisis. Exporters and their supply chains are responsible for millions of jobs in the UK. With unemployment rising during the crisis, job creation with exporters afterwards will be more important than ever, and we must have the flexibility to make our own measures for our own markets. Only by having that flexibility can we ensure that Britain’s economy is successfully refreshed.

As we look to ensure that we have what we need to protect us for the future—PPE, medicines and other things —it is natural to wish to turn inwards, to protect we have and to keep more for ourselves, and to ensure that we in our island can look after ourselves. In some ways, that is an understandable impulse, but not in the area of trade. Not only is it morally wrong to retreat behind a protectionist barrier wall by which the developing world is excluded—we would pay the consequences for that behaviour in any event—but it is against our own interests. We cannot make everything ourselves and we cannot make everything well. We should concentrate on what we are good at—high-tech industries, for example—and look elsewhere at where others can better help us and we can help them, too.

It is keeping open global trade routes that has enabled us to be fed, to buy PPE and to secure essential medication from all across the globe. Free trade is not just an economic opportunity, but the openness of the system itself provides a vital defence. We must seek to diversify our supply chains, because in that way we can improve our resilience to withstand future challenges and ensure that we reduce our reliance on countries—

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his speech, but we have to move on now to Paul Girvan—[Interruption.] We will come back to Paul Girvan, and will move on to Marco Longhi.

15:56
Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con) [V]
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The Trade Bill we are discussing today is a framework that allows us to continue to trade as a nation state with those countries who already have a trade agreement with the EU. It enables UK service providers to seek out business in Government procurement markets worth £1.3 trillion, and reshores from the EU those protections available under WTO rules to support British business against unfair trading activities under the new trade remedies authority.

Why is that important? It means that we will harpoon yet again the ill cited arguments that we will crash out and fall off a cliff edge through Brexit. It means that we can seek out new business, and it means that we can finally take effective action ourselves against rogue nations who do not respect international trading conventions. Let us remind ourselves of the EU’s impotence when China dumped its excess steel on our markets, and the jobs it cost us here in the UK.

It is an undisputed fact that open markets and free trade generate wealth and our new-found and hard-won ability to seek out new markets will grow our economy. Covid-19 has brought about a global tendency towards protectionism, which we know has the opposite effect. We must not be drawn into this trap at any cost, as we shall be poorer for it. However, what covid-19 has shown is that for all their rhetoric, the EU’s institutions fail to respond effectively, if at all, and its constituent members immediately behaved as a collection of nation states. They offered a shallow apology to the Italian people for leaving them to their own devices while protecting their own. I must ask, was that not entirely predictable? That begs the question of how, as a nation at this historic junction, we consider the strategic implications of a future crisis. Should we be more self-reliant in key areas such as energy, food and medicines? Many large corporates are now reshoring as they understand the total cost of outsourced activities, including problems with quality control, the cost of unreliable supply chains and the carbon footprint of products, just to name a few. That is why I was delighted to hear about our investment to produce 70 million masks in the UK and create around 450 jobs at the same time. It is about taking a risk-based approach and understanding the total cost-benefit arguments of decisions that we take in the key areas that affect our national resilience.

Globalisation is here to stay. As we harness the great opportunities presented to us by Brexit and FTAs, our biggest challenge is how we do so. The area that I represent in Dudley and the many areas that my new colleagues represent have not always benefited. Globalisation has seen benefits, but also a race to the bottom with a low-wage economy in traditional manufacturing and the loss of jobs in the sector. Buying a pair of boots for a few pounds less is not a huge benefit if there is not a job to go to.

Analysis shows that there are between 250,000 and 350,000 businesses that currently do not export but could. My plea is that we target those businesses, with a special focus on those in the midlands, with determination, enthusiasm and strategic focus, and at real pace, so that we can add value and bring new jobs to these areas while we also minimise the devastating impact of covid-19 on local economies and people’s lives.

16:01
Paul Girvan Portrait Paul Girvan (South Antrim) (DUP) [V]
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It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) and to have an opportunity to talk about the Bill, which is a road map to the UK and Northern Ireland’s future trading relationship with the rest of the world. It is important that we uphold and protect the good standards that we have set.

The Bill is focused on five main areas: procurement and the GPA; trade agreements; the formation of a trade remedies authority; information collecting, mainly in respect of HMRC; and data sharing. I want to focus mainly on what will affect Northern Ireland, which has a large proportion of exports, with 17% of all Northern Ireland sales going out of the country—sales worth £6.2 billion in 2018-19.

Two of our main sectors are machinery and transport: machinery makes up £3.2 billion of our total, and food, agriculture and the export of live animals make up £1.5 billion. I agree with the comments by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) about agri-food, which we have to protect. We must ensure that we maintain the standards that have been fought for and achieved, and that we implement them as much as we can in any future agreements. We have a fantastic farming and agri-food industry in Northern Ireland. We have fought hard to ensure that our industry is sustainable, and we want to ensure that it is there for the future.

The pharmaceutical industry plays a big role in Northern Ireland. In my constituency we have Randox, and elsewhere in Northern Ireland we have Almac and Norbrook Laboratories. All are working hard during this covid-19 crisis. They have an offer to the rest of the world that we have to maintain.

We have a great wealth of talent in our tech industry. It was recently announced that 65 jobs are to be created in Northern Ireland at the American firm Cygilant. We have to ensure that we have opportunities to uphold. I am a free marketeer, but I do believe that we have to protect those industries that are currently struggling and make sure that they have every opportunity to be included in trade deals.

The previous Bill fell in 2019 as a result of the Westminster election. As we did not have a Northern Ireland Assembly in place at that stage, we had no input from the Northern Ireland Executive in relation to what should or should not be included in that Bill. We have an opportunity to ensure that all areas of the United Kingdom are represented on the new body, the TRA, that will be set up. All regions of the United Kingdom and the devolved areas should be represented on it. I am asking for an assurance that when deals are put forward, they apply in full to Northern Ireland, are fully accessible to businesses and trade from Northern Ireland and will be for the benefit of all. This Bill is an opportunity for us to take back trade certainty and to take back control within our own Parliament and we will support it. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate this afternoon.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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We can now go back to Richard Graham.

16:05
Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con) [V]
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I hope you can hear me better this time, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to join this debate.

As our debate across the country widens gradually from how to protect our citizens’ health to how to protect their jobs, this Trade Bill is important. Some 30% of our GDP comes directly from our exports, and they in turn generate many of the jobs of all of our constituents. This is especially true in high-value manufacturing and engineering, cyber and services, in all of which there are some great examples clustered around my constituency of Gloucester.

This Bill, which provides the infrastructure for our own trading agreements with the Government procurement and the Trade Remedies Agency, is part of our plan to put our exporters in a position not just to recover but to grow again. Alongside the talks with the EU being handled through the Cabinet Office, and those by the Department of International Trade with the US, Australasia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this Bill highlights some of the Government’s strategy to take this forward.

I support all the goals mentioned in the Bill, but at the same time we should be honest about the risks. Global trade is currently in decline. Nationalism and protectionism are on the rise. The backdrop is not as benign as it was for an overall expansion of our trade, growth of exports and expansion of jobs in exporting businesses. We clearly do need to finish the agreements with our allies, such as Singapore, Canada and Japan, with which agreements did already exist. Trying to negotiate separate agreements with separate teams simultaneously with both the US and the EU is high-wire trade diplomacy. I wish our ministerial teams and all the negotiators all good fortune in taking these forward successfully. I believe that many of these things will go down to the wire, and our teams should play tough. They should stick with the game, and we need their success.

It is also worth highlighting the opportunities from the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is an important accession opportunity rather than an FTA. Even though there is some overlap, we should not forget the importance of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. TPP is not a complete substitute for continuing to grow our business with ASEAN in terms both of exports and bilateral investment. The way in which investment from the Philippines, to pick one small example, has turned around the fortunes of the Glaswegian Scottish whisky blender Whyte and Mackay is a strong case in point when it comes to the advantages of inward investment.

May I encourage the Secretary of State, the Minister who in his place and their teams to focus strongly, as we go forward, on the Continent of Asia both for greater market access through economic dialogues, as well as on FTAs and the TPP, recognising that most of its agricultural commodities and handicrafts are completely complementary to rather than competitive with our own output. Our services, for example those providing health insurance for millions across south-east Asia, are hugely beneficial for those countries as well as for our businesses. Ultimately, that is why this Bill is so important: it is an opportunity not only for us but for our trading partners, and we are right to strongly make the case as to why free trade does matter across the world.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I shall now suspend the House until 4.24 pm.

00:07
Sitting suspended.
00:07
On resuming—
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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We go now to Belfast South and Claire Hanna.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna (Belfast South) (SDLP) [V]
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We in the Social Democratic and Labour party have put on record our concerns about the concept of upending the trade environment for businesses, particularly while many are in the fight of their lives against covid, as well as our scepticism about the possibility of negotiating this deal in just seven months, given the social distancing and travel restrictions on us all.

We have another few objections to the content of this Bill. The first concerns democratic oversight and the Bill’s failure to uphold basic principles of scrutiny and oversight, including around delegated powers. When Brexit was fought for on the basis of powers for this Parliament, it seems bizarre that MPs would vote to hand those powers to the Government unchecked to allow them to negotiate and sign, with incomplete scrutiny, trade deals that could have a massive effect on many aspects of our lives. Trade is a reserved matter, and this has particular implications for those of us in devolved regions where the powers may very well cut across devolved matters.

Our second objection relates to the protection of the national health service. The Bill fails to provide cover for that, despite numerous invitations to the Government to do so. The Government may say that the national health service is not for sale, but many people feel that actions in the medium and recent past make that unlikely to be true. Many have pointed out that we had applause for the national health service just last Thursday, but on Monday of this week a Bill was introduced that will seriously hamper the ability to provide health and social care services. Leaked papers from last year make very clear—if they were not already—the US’s interests in a trade deal, namely further access to NHS contracts and data. If the Government want people to believe that that will be off limits, they need to legislate specifically for that.

We also have serious concerns about the environmental ramifications of the approach set out in the Bill, which we do not think is compatible with an acknowledgment of our obligations to address climate change and improve resilience. The Bill should be underpinned by binding high environmental standards and non-regression provisions, but it is not. If done badly, these trade deals risk a race to the bottom on environmental protections and standards, as well as labour protections and standards. The fact that the Government rebuffed attempts to introduce standards via the Agriculture Bill will convince many people that the Government are not serious about such protections.

That leads me on to farming. Farmers in Northern Ireland and, I would imagine, elsewhere were dismayed by the Government’s failure to accept reasonable amendments to the Agriculture Bill. That leaves farming and many other sectors facing an uncertain future. That is particularly true for farmers in Northern Ireland—I am sure it is the same in many other regions—who trade and market on the basis of exceptionally high standards. They now fear that they will face competition from products of low and, indeed, unknown standards.

I want to finish with some questions that I hope the Secretary of State will address in her wind-up. One is about the trade arrangements that we currently enjoy with other territories—I think there are 74. How many of those arrangements have been rolled over to date, given that we require them all to be so within a matter of months? Does she anticipate that any countries that have rolled over, or that have indicated a willingness to do so, will seek to renegotiate in the light of the tariff schedule that was published yesterday? Does she acknowledge that every differential between the UK and the EU tariff schedules adds to the list of goods at risk in the Northern Ireland protocol and offers incentives for smuggling? Does she believe that that is yet another unfortunate consequence that people in Northern Ireland have to deal with, despite having rejected Brexit at every turn?

Finally, the Secretary of State has pointed out in the past that Northern Ireland will have UK tariffs applied—and lower, if that is negotiated with partners—but if any future arrangements require changes to regulatory practices and areas that are covered by the Northern Ireland protocol, will those arrangements have a carve-out for Northern Ireland?

00:05
Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con) [V]
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It has been almost four years since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. For the majority of that time, my constituents have been wondering what this would mean for them, their families and their businesses. Much has been made of the negatives in the last few years. What might go wrong? What markets are being lost? What standards are being lowered, and so on?

Today, of course, we find ourselves in a state of flux. The year 2020 has taken an unexpected turn and has altered the world in such a way that we are currently not sure what our normal is. Our coastal and rural communities are understandably nervous about what their future will look like. I understand those concerns completely, but the Bill offers a glimpse of life in the future, and for this we must be optimistic. With this Bill, global markets are a step closer to being opened up to Truro and Falmouth, the whole of Cornwall and the entire United Kingdom.

Figures suggest that a free trade agreement with the US, for example, could potentially boost the economy in the south-west by £284 million in the long term. One business in my constituency that might benefit from this is a copywriting agency based in Penrhyn. It works for tech companies around the world, including the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle and Salesforce, and around 35% of its business is from overseas. Two of the biggest clients are now based in the US, and it received funding last year from the Department for International Trade to travel to Boston to develop stronger relationships with one of its clients, a global software firm. Another company, also based in Penrhyn, uses precision 3D laser scanners to offer a safe and highly efficient surveying service to a wide range of industries. Founded 10 years ago as a 3D mining surveying company, it has branched out and offers surveying for yachts, vessels and other architectural design, with work being explored in the Balkans and on the African continent. These are just two examples of businesses in my constituency where I hope future open markets will be of greater advantage. There are many such businesses in Cornwall that can springboard once tariffs and red tape are reduced.

To support the dairy industry, food and drink and small businesses, the FTA could allow changes to tariffs for key exports such as dairy, which are currently as high as 25%. It could also see protection and growth for the region’s famous local exports. The south-west already exports £3.7 million-worth of drinks to the US, and a deal could help to build those exports and maintain effective protection for food and drink names to reflect their geographical origins, such as Cornish cider and, of course, Cornish pasties.

Last week, we voted to ensure that the Agriculture Bill moved to the next stage of its progress through Parliament. The House will remember that there were two amendments regarding the protection of food standards. I voted with the Government because I felt that this was not a discussion that should disrupt an otherwise fantastic piece of legislation. However, it is an important issue and one that Cornish farmers and I feel very strongly about.

Many farmers in my constituency are concerned that opening up the markets to imports from the US, in particular, could unfairly disadvantage them. However, managed correctly, I strongly believe that the UK agricultural sector will greatly benefit from a UK-US trade deal. There are clear opportunities for agricultural exports, of course. Currently, the average tariff on Cornish cheese, for example, is around 17%, which means that US consumers must pay more, so our quality produce is often priced out of the market.

However, on the tricky subject of food imports, I believe that the Government need to consider open, clear and obvious labelling—I am a big labelling fan and I am becoming a labelling nerd. I really want to see the Government working with food and agricultural industries to ensure that consumers can really see what they are buying. In my heady days as a new MP, all the way back at the beginning of the year, the Secretary of State made encouraging noises about better labelling, and that, for me, is key. When purchasing fresh meat, we see that our labelling has got much better. I, for one, always look to see that a chicken is free range and British. I am reassured by that, as I know that our free range chickens are, on the whole, happy chickens. However, someone buying a chicken korma ready meal, for example, will see no indication of where that chicken started its life or of whether it was content with its lot.

In closing, we must trust the British people to do the right thing, and we must give them all the information they need to make the correct decisions. Most people want to support British farmers, and reward their hard work and high animal welfare standards. The Government have a responsibility to make that as easy as possible; it is not protectionism—it is trust. It is about trusting our farmers and farming industry to carry on being the best—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. The hon. Lady has exceeded her five minutes.

16:35
Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con) [V]
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I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, as it represents a major step forward in the UK’s journey to reclaim its role as the independent, global trading nation we all want it to be, delivering on a pledge I made to my constituents and the Government made to the country. Burnley has been a beneficiary of free trade: our largest employers include Safran Nacelles, of France, and Paradigm Precision, of the United States, and only a few weeks ago, Ultimate Visual Solutions, a local business, worked with the Department for International Trade to secure its first order in Vietnam—I am sure it will be the first of many.

Sadly, however, our area has lost jobs in recent weeks. Lancashire is the fourth largest manufacturing cluster for aerospace in the world, and that is one of the most global of sectors, in terms of both the supply chain and the customers it serves. The sector has been hit hard, and our challenge is to make sure that free and fair trade helps to spur our recovery on, getting the hundreds of thousands of businesses that do not currently export exporting, and generating economic growth and the jobs that go with it. I am committed to doing everything I can to make sure that is the case in Burnley. I was particularly pleased to hear the Secretary of State mention the textiles industry, as anyone who knows Burnley well will know that it was once the centre of global textiles and continues to have a thriving industry, which I know can reclaim that title once again.

For international trade to work, we need to ensure we have a safety mechanism—a way of dealing with those countries that say they trade freely but seek advantage through anti-competitive means. The proposal in this Bill for a Trade Remedies Authority is therefore welcome. That body will need to have the teeth required to deal with subsidies, dumping and any other measures used to distort the market.

As we take this step again towards being an independent, global trading nation, it is right that we also consider why trade is important, and not just why we are supporting it. The simple truth remains that free trade creates free people; it has done more to lift people out of poverty than any other measure, and it continues to drive global economic growth. That is why the UK initially joined what was then the European Economic Community; we saw, and continue to see, the benefits of striking trade relationships with like-minded countries. Having left the EU, it is important for us to look at the agreements struck on our behalf over the past 40 years to identify whether to carry them over. This Bill allows us to do that. I congratulate the Secretary of State and the whole departmental team for the way in which they have done this; 48 of these agreements are ready to be rolled over, securing more than £110 billion-worth of trade.

I have heard some people criticise the way in which the Government are planning to roll over some of the agreements, including the one with Japan, as though trying to be more ambitious, liberalising more trade and securing thousands more jobs in the UK were, in some way, a bad thing. The message from the House in this debate should be clear: the Government have our full support in trying to strike the best trade deals. We should roll them over where we can, where it is in our interests, but we should also build on them where we can, getting the best for Britain, because as we emerge on to the world stage of trade, we should be the leading light. I welcome the Government’s transparency as to where they seek to do that. Last week, we got full sight of the negotiation objectives for the UK-Japanese negotiations, just as we have done in respect of the US ones. The Secretary of State has made herself available to all colleagues on many occasions to discuss the UK-US free trade agreement, and I am sure that similar time will be made available to discuss the Japanese negotiations. Committing to using the affirmative procedure for any secondary legislation required to implement these continuity agreements ensures that there is ample time for debate in both Houses.

We also need to ensure that our trade agreements—those that are getting rolled over and those we negotiate in the future—are fit for the 21st century. Where we can negotiate new deals that allow UK technology companies to operate globally, including through innovative regulatory mechanisms such as the FinTech bridge, we should do so. Chapters on that, along with those on SMEs, will allow our businesses not just in Burnley but beyond to scale up rapidly in the global market, delivering the economy of the future.

I warmly welcome the Bill. It puts the UK back on the global trading map with an independent trade remedies body, and it provides the mechanism needed to roll over and expand existing trade agreements. For that reason, I look forward to voting for the Bill later.

16:40
Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD) [V]
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The Liberal Democrats will be voting against the Second Reading of the Trade Bill. It denies the British people the same rights that they enjoyed as members of the European Union, including the right to scrutinise and properly debate the terms on which we will trade with the rest of the world. When we were represented by Members of the European Parliament, we enjoyed that right. Our representatives were required to vote on all draft trade deals before they could be ratified. There is not enough time today to go over the old debate on whether or not the UK is better off as part of a single trading bloc—Members will surely be in no doubt about my own views on that issue—but it is inconsistent to have secured the right for the UK to negotiate its own trade deals, only to promptly shut the British people out of all discussions about them.

What would our constituents wish us to prioritise if they were allowed a say? They would want to know that goods coming into our country were produced to the same quality standards as the domestically produced goods they will compete with; that any food coming from abroad was farmed with sufficient regard to animal welfare; and that consumers were protected from shoddy or unsafe goods. They would want to know that the workers producing those goods in other countries had the same rights as UK workers, and to know that cheaper prices for imported goods were not achieved at the cost of employee welfare. They would also want to resist a race to the bottom by business owners who argue that maintaining employment standards in this country makes them uncompetitive. They would want to know that the UK and our international trade partners were pushing forward towards the goal of achieving net zero carbon, and that we could not accept goods into our domestic market that were produced with environmental standards that where any lower than those of goods produced here.

The Government wish to preserve the Union, but we know that they are happy for part of the United Kingdom to trade under different terms from the other nations to meet their political objectives. What else will this Government trade away if they are left unscrutinised? Our counterparts in trade negotiations will have to have their deals endorsed by their legislatures. The US deal will need to be ratified by Congress. Its negotiators will know what will and will not get through Congress, and they will use that as a negotiating position. We will not have the same negotiating strength, as our counterparts will know that we do not have to defer to Parliament. It will be much easier for the UK to yield than it will be for the US, and how tempting will that be, if the Government prize a quick political win over uninteresting detail that nobody can scrutinise?

The International Trade Secretary is surely aware that the significance of tariff barriers is declining as the significance of non-tariff barriers increases. Those non-tariff barriers can be complex and shifting and require difficult choices. Do we prioritise cheaper goods over the fight against climate change? Do we open up foreign markets to our exports at the risk of bolstering a regime that does not respect human rights? These questions should be debated on the Floor of the House so that the public have a full understanding of the decisions that are being made on their behalf.

This country is a very different place from the one that last negotiated its own trade agreements. We have a far wider range of consumer goods available to us, and many of us have sufficient income to be able to make discerning choices about which ones we will purchase. We are better informed than we ever were, and we use that information to guide our buying choices. Consumers are using their buying power to demand and achieve significant improvements in the ethical and environmental production of the goods they purchase. Why should the British people not being able to influence how that same power is exercised on their behalf on a national basis in the global marketplace?

To oppose the Bill is not to endorse protectionism, as some Members on the Government Benches have implied. It is simply to state that the Bill does not seek to realise fully all the opportunities that building our own trade policy represents. It robs the British people of rights they have enjoyed for 50 years and it weakens our negotiating position on future trade deals.

16:44
Lee Rowley Portrait Lee Rowley (North East Derbyshire) (Con)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Over the past three months, our primary focus has been coronavirus and the challenge we face on a national and local level. It is right that we have spent a huge amount of time, effort and focus on coronavirus. At the same time, if we do not prepare as parliamentarians for the future beyond coronavirus, whenever that terrible disease eventually moves on, and if we do not spend time thinking through how we reshape the world and take advantage of the opportunities that will come, we are not doing our jobs adequately.

One of the big jobs is ensuring that we have the right foreign policy, trade policy and international trade policy. That is why I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill. I do not share the criticisms from Members that we are not giving the Bill adequate scrutiny or that now is not the time to make these decisions. I do not claim to be an expert in international trade, but in some ways, we do not need to be experts in international trade to welcome a Bill that, at its heart, perpetuates the principle that I hope most people in this place stand for: free trade.

Free trade is one of those principles and ideologies that is not much talked about other than as a negative, but actually, it has significantly improved our lot domestically over many centuries. Vitally, it has also improved the lot of so many people across the world, ensuring that so many people are lifted out of poverty and giving us so many opportunities. Yet Members on the Opposition Benches focus on the challenges or disadvantages of it.

We as parliamentarians suffer the quagmire—the fog—of special interest groups, who are perpetually rent-seeking when it comes to these Bills. We suffer the white noise of groups such as 38 Degrees who seek to spam us in ways that misinterpret and offer misinformation about the reality of what we are trying to do.

It is free trade that has partly been responsible for the reduction in absolute poverty by more than half since 1990. It is free trade that contributed to the magnificent growth of economies around the world, such as those in South Korea and Germany, out of the ruins of war 50 or 60 years ago. We should stand up for the opportunities that free trade offers.

This is not a paean to free trade on just a principled or conceptual basis. Free trade presents demonstrable opportunities for people in my constituency and constituencies across the country. It supports jobs in places like Clay Cross, where people go to work every day in highly skilled factories to export goods across the world. It supports entrepreneurs who see new opportunities and new markets around the world for their ideas, so that they can grow their businesses in places like Dronfield and Eckington. Bluntly, it supports us all in our old age, because we put money into pensions that grow by investing in companies that use free trade to satisfy demand, move goods around the world and ensure that, ultimately, people get the things they need. I do not just support free trade from a principled perspective; I support it because it helps North East Derbyshire and every single other constituency in this country.

We also need to support free trade and Bills such as this because of the opportunities that will come in the next few decades. We will have to get over the challenges caused by coronavirus in the next few years. Opening up markets, seeking to obtain deals across the world and seeking to roll over, as the Bill does, existing deals and enhance them where possible are exactly the kind of opportunities we need to take as we rebuild our country after the grave difficulties that were so unexpected in the last three months or so.

Free trade does not mean a free-for-all. It means the opportunity to build fair and equitable trade for all of us. Ultimately, free trade and the legislative framework that supports it give us and our constituents the opportunity to build better lives and to offer that to people across the world. It is something I celebrate, and I hope that the majority of people in this House do the same.

16:49
Margaret Greenwood Portrait Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab) [V]
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There is a great deal of public concern about the Bill before us today, because it fails to provide for effective parliamentary scrutiny in future trade agreements. In effect, the Government will have free rein to do what they like in signing trade agreements with countries around the world, including countries that do not have the same level of environmental protections, food safety and animal welfare regulations that we currently have. Free trade agreements can have an impact on our labour standards, and on the ability of our public services to operate in the public sector. That has profound implications for the quality of all our lives, and for our democracy.

Before the current covid-19 crisis, large sections of the public had become aware of the privatisation of the national health service which has been going on under this and previous Conservative Governments. The Bill fails to protect the future of the NHS, since it does nothing to prevent trade deals from being done behind closed doors without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012, introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government, brought in complex changes, undermining our national health service as a public service delivered by public sector employees. The abolition of the student nurse bursary seemed designed to erode further the public sector ethos of our NHS. Yet, despite this onslaught from the Government, today we see doctors, nurses and other NHS workers putting their all into serving all of us as our country goes through the most terrible of public health emergencies. It is humbling and we owe them an immense debt of gratitude for their outstanding dedication. In this context, it is all the more important that those of us in Parliament and in this place stand up for the NHS and fight to protect it. I believe that the Bill fails to protect the future of our national health service.

The British Medical Association has been quite clear that the Bill should stipulate that the health and social care sectors are excluded from the scope of all future trade agreements to ensure that the NHS can be publicly funded, publicly provided and publicly accountable. It is also quite clear that the Bill should rule out investor protection and dispute resolution mechanisms, to ensure that foreign private companies cannot sue the UK Government for legitimate public procurement and regulatory decisions, and that protections should be included in the Bill to ensure that NHS price control mechanisms are maintained so that patients have access to essential and life-changing medicines.

I am very concerned that, while our fantastic NHS workers are doing everything they can to tackle covid-19 and provide care and support to anyone who needs it, the Government are seeking to pass a Bill that does nothing to enable elected representatives meaningfully to scrutinise trade deals to protect the NHS. The Trade Justice Movement has said:

“The current processes are fundamentally undemocratic: Parliament has no guaranteed say on trade deals, and the government is not required to be transparent before or during trade negotiations.”

At the last general election, the Conservative party manifesto promised:

“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”

Yet, the National Farmers Union has highlighted the absence of any provisions to safeguard the high farming production standards in the context of the international trade negotiations. Compassion in World Farming has quite rightly said that any new trade agreements must not undermine UK standards for animal welfare, food safety or environmental protections, and that they must protect UK farmers from imports produced to standards lower than those in the UK.

During the transition period following the UK’s exit from the European Union, trade remedies are dealt with by the EU. At the end of the transition period, we need our own trade remedies authority to investigate alleged unfair practices. However, the new trade remedies authority provided for in the Bill lacks the independence, parliamentary oversight and accountability needed to ensure that it will operate transparently and fairly when investigating and challenging practices that distort competition against UK producers in breach of international trade rules. There is no provision for ensuring a voice on the trade remedies authority for industry bodies or trade unions, and there is no proposed mechanism for their ongoing consultation on trade practices affecting the competitiveness of UK industries or the employment of workers therein.

To conclude, the Bill fails to make provision for meaningful and effective parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals and gives the Government immense powers to turn back the clock on safety standards in the food we eat, the products we buy, our employment rights and the way in which public services are delivered. It threatens the future of the NHS by leaving it exposed to greatly increased privatisation—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. The hon. Lady has exceeded her five-minute limit.

16:54
Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con) [V]
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This is an important Bill for global Britain, and important too for our local manufacturers, not least in Stoke-on-Trent. As a passionate supporter of free trade, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, not only as the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central—an urban constituency with many excellent exporting businesses—but as a former small business owner who traded with many nations and sold products internationally for UK markets.

Covid-19 is having a profound effect on world trade. We will not know the full impact for some time, but we do know that free and fair trade—the global movement of goods and materials—has been key to fighting this terrible virus. We all expect a vaccine, regardless of where it is first successfully developed, to be shared with the global community. Crucially, flexibility, wherever possible, is being demonstrated in the most extraordinarily creative ways by our domestic producers. After the pandemic, we will be able to embrace in full the exciting opportunity of free and fair trade.

Fair trade means rules-based trade. I welcome and am encouraged by the willingness of the Department to retain trade remedies against the outrageous practice of dumping, particularly of ceramic wares and especially by China. It is precisely because our manufacturers are not competing on a level, rules-based playing field that we need to keep tariffs on many ceramic goods. Our producers do not expect special favours, but they do expect safeguards against special favours being granted elsewhere.

Free trade can lead to fierce competition, but this should not necessarily be regarded as negative. Under normal circumstances, world-class firms like Portmeirion, Wade Ceramics and Emma Bridgewater in my constituency are more than up to the challenge of producing the very best products in the global market, leading consumer trends, creating sales opportunities, and attracting investment. Indeed, in much of the quality ceramics markets globally, we are the fierce competition. The prospect of a trade deal with America that feeds the huge US demand for British ceramics is a real and positive one. I know that both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the US ambassador are particularly keen to seize the opportunity of feeding the US appetite for British ceramics.

But we are not currently in normal circumstances. The return to work is slow, and the new practices will take time to adjust to. The Trade Remedies Authority needs to be alert to the problems of rule-breaking and watch rogue actors, as we will be in Stoke-on-Trent. We hope that the Government take the lead by ensuring that “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” is emblazoned as a back-stamp on every piece of tableware they procure and that Potteries pottery is in use in our embassies and high commissions across the globe. Indeed, I hope that the Department will seriously look at housing a trade adviser in Stoke-on-Trent, hopefully at a purpose-built ceramics park and centre for international research into advanced ceramics manufacture. We are determined to keep Stoke-on-Trent as the world capital of ceramics, at the cutting edge of advanced manufacturing and traditional table and ornamental ware.

I welcome the clarity on the global tariff and support this Bill as a key step in realising the opportunities for global Britain.

16:58
Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con) [V]
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Free trade is vital for Britain to have a robust economy, so I welcome the fact that this new Trade Bill gives Britain the opportunity to write a new chapter in our trading history. Free trade provides an environment that encourages fair competition, leading to greater specialisation and increased innovation.

Over 250,000 UK businesses have tradeable goods and services but do not currently trade internationally. This represents millions of pounds and thousands of jobs that the British economy is missing out on. I have been speaking to Staffordshire County Council and the Department for International Trade to encourage more Stafford-based businesses, both big and small, to explore further exporting opportunities. I welcome this Bill because it sets out a framework for a truly global Britain.

We are all aware of the devastating impact that coronavirus is having across our communities, from the tragic loss of life to the long-term impact that it is having on our economy and my constituents’ quality of life. I fully support the wide range of measures that the Government have introduced to tackle coronavirus and the unprecedented lengths that the Chancellor has gone to in protecting the economy and supporting people’s jobs.

In my roundtable with members of the Staffordshire chamber of commerce last week, I was therefore disappointed to hear that jobs across Staffordshire may be at risk. Trade provides a beacon of hope for the future of our economy, and it is imperative that every link in the supply chain is encouraged to grow. Just as coronavirus has demonstrated in such a devastating way how closely we are all connected, it is global co-operation that will be vital to defeating this deadly virus, so we must use the lessons learned from this pandemic to foster more collaboration between nations.

I welcome the fact that the Government have been working with the World Trade Organisation and the Commonwealth to champion a liberal free trading agenda across the world and to support developing countries in maintaining the benefits of trade for their economies and populations, which is all the more important now that the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Kigali, which was scheduled for June—I had planned to attend—has now been postponed.

If I may focus for a moment on Africa, our two-way trade has enormous value—a total of £35.1 billion of goods and services in 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics—creating sustainable jobs both at home and abroad. I was pleased that our Prime Minister seized this opportunity by hosting the inaugural Africa investment summit in London earlier this year, where he promised to renew our economic partnership with Africa, which contains some of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Let me explain how trade with Africa directly affects my constituency in the west midlands. Last summer, I visited a Fairtrade co-operative cocoa farm in central Ghana. I saw for myself the jobs that the farm provides, especially for women and the families they support. Not only is it a great Fairtrade initiative, but the beans are used to produce chocolate that is transported throughout the world, including chocolate found in my supermarkets here in Stafford and across the UK. It was concerning to hear that Ghana’s cocoa industry is now facing a $1 billion shortfall in revenue, with devastating consequences for the farmers I met last summer.

African countries are facing a dual crisis with the impact of coronavirus on their populations and the global economic slowdown, which threatens to undo the hard-fought economic gains of the past 25 years. It is vital that Britain has the opportunity to create its own trade policy that strikes the right balance between encouraging imports of goods that we need and incentivising manufacturing and production on home soil to sell in Britain and export around the world.

I welcome the fact that the Trade Bill will work hand in hand with a number of other measures, such as the UK global tariff, to usher in a new era of trade. The UK is removing tariffs from goods that it does not produce and that come from developing countries—cotton yarn, for example, is going from 4% to 0%—and at the same time backing British agriculture by applying tariffs on other goods. The Prime Minister has pledged that the UK will be the foremost champion of free trade in the world. I hope that the Trade Bill will boost British goods and ensure that we can encourage others to trade out of poverty.

17:03
Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab) [V]
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I wish to focus my remarks on what the Bill and the Government’s trade policy means for human rights around the world in terms of our existing obligations and our commitment as a country to stand up against human rights abuses wherever they take place.

When striking trade deals across the world, many nations use trade to influence human rights policy, yet there is concern that, faced with the need to strike quick deals to demonstrate success in the aftermath of Brexit, the Government will water down human rights protections, particularly when China, India and Russia—all countries with a poor record on human rights—rank within the UK’s top 25 export and import markets.

China’s deliberate evasion of human rights is well known, with the mass detention, torture and mistreatment of the Uyghur Muslims in particular, along with controls on their daily lives. Russia is also notorious for its weak human rights record, lack of accountability for those in public office and widespread torture and persecution.

While any abuse of human rights is abhorrent and must be challenged, the Indian Government’s human rights abuses in Indian-occupied Kashmir—well-documented by several human rights organisations, including the United Nations—is particularly important for my constituents in relation to any trade deals with India. As we speak, the region is now almost 10 months into a brutal lockdown that has seen cities, towns and villages placed under what is in effect a siege, with food, water and medicines restricted from entering and civilians restricted from leaving. This lockdown has also seen communications cut on an unprecedented scale, which has prevented any spread of information and left security forces even more unaccountable. With a need for reliable information to restrict the spread of coronavirus, this electronic curfew causes yet more harm.

Sadly, this experience is nothing new for the sons and daughters of Kashmir. They are routinely subjected to persecution, discrimination and heavy-handed tactics by Indian security forces, with a disproportionate use of force, including the indiscriminate firing of live ammunition and the routine use of pellet guns that have left hundreds of Kashmiris, including children, blind for life. That is to say nothing of the repressive control measures, rapes, tortures and indiscriminate detentions that take place across the region at the hands of the security forces. What is scandalous is that those committing these human rights abuses are immune from prosecution under the Indian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, rendering them in effect untouchable, despite their crimes.

The Indian Government also continue to deny the Kashmiris their right to self-determination, as was mandated by a United Nations Security Council resolution that is now well over 70 years old. There is no prospect any time soon of the vote that will allow them to shape their own destiny, particularly following the illegal decision to revoke articles 370 and 35A. In effect, that decision repeals what little autonomy Kashmir held in its position as a disputed territory at the heart of an unresolved conflict. What the Indian Government are doing in Indian-occupied Kashmir is vile and abhorrent, and it must be called out and challenged.

We cannot let our desire for trade allow us to ignore this. The Government must not be afraid to put human rights and high standards before trade, especially when it concerns those nations, such as India, with whom we share strong historical, cultural and social ties. In this region in particular, we have both a historical and moral duty, and as is the case with all human rights abuses, it is an international issue, not a domestic one or a bilateral one, that we cannot and must not ignore.

With time not permitting me to speak longer, let me say in conclusion that while this Bill allows the UK to pursue new trade deals, it must not pursue a new approach on human rights or overturn years of hard work in pursuit of a quick deal that turns a blind eye to human rights abuses, human suffering, the abuse of workers or the watering down of environmental protections. Instead, it must commit to strengthening our human rights commitments and to ensuring that any future trade deal incorporates the highest standards on human rights. At the very least, this means an end to the detention camps in China and to the persecution, discrimination and injustice in Kashmir, with the repeal of the special powers Act and a free, fair and independent plebiscite for Kashmiris to decide their own future, in line with the United Nations resolutions that this House has an absolute duty to uphold.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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The last speaker from the Back Benches is Fay Jones.

17:08
Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con) [V]
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Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is an honour to have been called to speak in this debate, and to be called last.

The Bill before us today is one of continuity, which during these uncertain times will provide reassurance to many of the hard-working rural businesses in my constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire. The Bill builds on two manifesto commitments on which I was elected: to protect the national health service and to protect our farmers from substandard imports. Trade is the cornerstone of our economy, and ensuring that stability is maintained as we leave the transition period is paramount. With our exit from the European Union, there has never been a better time to broaden our horizons and to seek opportunities as an independent trading nation.



Constituents have contacted me recently to voice their concerns about the Bill and the fact that the national health service could be vulnerable to privatisation when the UK joins the Government procurement agreement in its own right. I am certain that it will come as great reassurance that the Bill makes it clear that the UK’s GPA coverage does not and will not apply to the procurement of UK healthcare services.

Every day we are reminded of the overwhelming importance of our national health service and the services that it provides, and I want to take this opportunity to thank all those working on the frontline, particularly in Brecon and Radnorshire. I am glad that no part of the Bill will change the way in which we deliver our healthcare provision in the UK. It is clear that the NHS will remain a public service that is free at the point of use, paid for by taxation and fundamentally working for the benefit of the public.

Brecon and Radnorshire is home to some of the greatest farmers in the country—arguably some of the best in Europe. This morning I had the pleasure of talking to the young farmers clubs of Brecknock and Radnor—or rather, they did most of the talking. Representing a constituency that revolves around farming, I want to ensure that those young farmers have a bright and prosperous future. Their high-quality produce is more than a tradeable commodity; it is a source of deep pride, to them and to me. Their commitment to the highest standards of animal welfare and food production is very inspiring and should be championed at every opportunity, especially as we deliver on signing new and ambitious trading agreements around the world.

I firmly welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that we will not compromise on our standards when pursuing future trade deals, as that would inevitably lead to a decline in our prized agriculture sector—something that I cannot accept. I wholeheartedly echo the comments of my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), who called for greater engagement with the farming community on the Bill. I know that the Minister will give consideration to that. I am grateful that the Secretary of State confirmed yesterday that she is happy to visit one of the seven livestock markets in my constituency, and I look forward to welcoming her as soon as possible.

With the creation of a new independent body, the trade remedies authority, businesses and producers in the UK can have confidence that as we secure the benefits of global free trade, we can simultaneously provide a safety net for our domestic industries. As our trade remedies are currently maintained by the European Union, it is imperative that the authority has the necessary powers to protect UK producers against unfair trading practices such as unfair subsidies and dumping, and I wholeheartedly support those aims.

The Bill will ensure that we are able to roll over our current trading arrangements. Now, as an independent nation, we have the chance to reaffirm and expand our agreements. We are limited only by our ambition. Rural mid-Wales needs every opportunity to trade our produce and services around the world. Driving jobs and economic growth through international trade is crucial and a priority of this Government, but I urge Ministers to give rural entrepreneurs as much of a fighting chance as their urban counterparts. Our message is clear: an independent Britain will be open for business, and across Brecon and Radnorshire we are willing and eager to play our part.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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We now go to Bill Esterson to wind up the debate for the Opposition.

17:13
Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab) [V]
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Labour believes in free and fair trade. International trade will play a vital role in how we recover from the biggest economic shock since the second world war, but we cannot return to a system of unscrutinised trade deals that open the door to lower living standards and higher carbon emissions. The Bill should provide a framework for trade policy, create a trade remedies regime that works for the whole country and give people the confidence that trade deals will be properly scrutinised by MPs and civil society, but it does very few, if any, of those things.

International trade agreements have the potential to undermine our public services, favouring foreign multinationals eyeing up our NHS, for example. They can be used to undermine workers’ rights here and abroad, and to damage food safety and animal welfare. They can prevent action to tackle the climate emergency. That is why there is so much concern about the Bill and why the lack of scrutiny envisaged under it is wrong—wrong for the agreements covered by the Bill and wrong because of the precedent it sets for future trade agreements, such as that with the United States. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) was one of a number of Members who expressed similar concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) called for human rights to be strengthened, and not ignored, as part of trade negotiations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) gave an excellent analysis of the case for investment in our manufacturing base, which of course requires a trade remedy system that acts in the long-term interest of manufacturers and does not give equivalent importance to temporary consumer gains from unfairly subsidised imports. In fact, the hon. Members for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) gave perfect examples of what can go wrong when low prices for consumers are put first, only to see workers in domestic manufacturing lose their jobs.

The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) was right when he said that trade agreements are about much more than trade. He also highlighted the lack of engagement with the devolved Administrations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) did an excellent job of scrutinising the Bill last time around, as the then shadow Secretary of State. His description today of the weakness of the trade remedies system and what he called the Government’s view of Parliament as “an inconvenience” was again an excellent analysis of all that is wrong with what he called “this disastrous Bill”.

In last week’s Agriculture Bill, the Government blocked attempts to lock in food standards, and environmental and animal welfare protections. In a framework for international trade, rights and standards should include those proposed last week—not just food safety standards, but standards that do not deliver an unfair advantage from the cheaper production that results from insanitary conditions for livestock and often the use of GM foods to boost yields. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) said that he was told last week that those were matters for the Trade Bill—perhaps the Minister will tell us whether that is true.

On continuity agreements, we told the Government what would happen when they tabled a similar Trade Bill to that in the last Parliament. We said then, and we say again now, that the new agreements need to be properly scrutinised by Parliament, by the devolved nations and by civil society. Twenty of the existing deals remain to be signed. Why? Because the third countries want better deals—deals that need proper scrutiny, the scrutiny so far absent from the 20 deals that have been signed already.

What is proposed is undemocratic. While we were part of the EU, the European Parliament carried out scrutiny and voted on new trade agreements. That scrutiny process has been deleted with nothing in its place. I hope that the Minister for Trade Policy, the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), will take note that his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) quoted promises of a new scrutiny regime made by this Government. He called for more scrutiny, not less.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Sir Mark Hendrick) made similar comments, and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) made the same point in the context of the way in which trade is a reserved matter with the potential to cut across delegated powers in the nations of the UK.

Labour believes that MPs should have unrestricted access to negotiating texts as they are formulated, with the power to analyse those texts with the technical experts of their choice. As the House of Lords European Union Committee has warned mere “accountability after the fact” for Government negotiators does not represent “a sufficient basis for” meaningful “parliamentary scrutiny”. The devolved Governments, employers and unions should also be fully engaged.

When the Minister responds in a moment, will he tell me whether he has considered how the proposed parliamentary scrutiny and approval of trade deals in the UK compares with that in Australia, which the Secretary of State in her speech said was a model of free trade? While he is about it, will he tell us about the systems in the United States, in New Zealand and in other similar democracies? Finally, I ask him what the Government have to fear about emulating the level of consultation, evaluation and affirmation of trade deals that we see in those countries.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I call the Minister, whom I ask to take no more than seven minutes, please.

17:19
Greg Hands Portrait The Minister for Trade Policy (Greg Hands)
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It is a pleasure to respond to what has proved to be a spirited and well-informed debate. The Bill provides us with the opportunity to come together to shape a piece of legislation that will underpin and enable our country’s prosperity in the years to come up. Members from all significant parties and parts of the UK made valuable and considered contributions this afternoon.

The House will be aware that I was the Minister responsible for taking the Trade Bill through Committee during the previous Parliament—as alluded to by the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)—in my previous role in the Department for International Trade, so I stress that I am a continuity Minister for a continuity Bill. Nevertheless, my involvement in this latest Bill has been limited until relatively recently, so I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), who has done great service in engaging in constructive dialogue with colleagues from across the UK, as well as with key Opposition figures in both this Chamber and the other place, to bring the Bill back to Parliament.

Members have raised a number of important issues; I will try to answer as many of their questions as possible in the short time available. I am happy to write to Members to follow up on any further points, if any Members feel that to be necessary. I will also be holding a virtual “open door” session for all MPs on 4 June, when I can answer any further questions that they may have.

Before I turn to the issues, let me remind the House of the purpose of the Bill: it will enable the UK to implement our obligations in the trade agreements that we have signed and will sign with countries that already had trade agreements with the EU at the point at which the UK left the EU, on 31 January 2020. It will also enable us to implement our obligations under the WTO agreement on Government procurement, create the Trade Remedies Authority, and enable us to have data-sharing powers to assist in trade.

Let me respond to some of the individual points made. We welcome the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) back to the Dispatch Box. Most extraordinarily, she said that the Bill was “not worth the wait”. She should try telling that to UK companies that are already participating in the $1.3 trillion global procurement market as a result of the GPA. She should try saying “not worth the wait” about the £207 billion-worth of UK trade with those countries with which we are signing continuity agreements. She should try telling that to those companies and jobs that depend on a strong trade-defence regime in this country to protect against unfair trading practices. The Bill is well worth the wait.

The right hon. Lady asked about human rights; none of the 20 agreements signed so far contains any weakening of human rights commitments. There was no termination clause in underlying EU agreements, which is all we are seeking to replicate in the Bill. All the continuity agreements that the UK has signed so far have been laid before Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process—a process that the right hon. Lady voted for, when she was a Labour Member of Parliament, supporting her Government of the time.

Let me turn to some of the other points raised. It was fantastic to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) talking about trade, welcoming the UK global tariff and discussing WTO reform, the rules- based system and his continuing interest in the WTO.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) asked whether any countries did not want a deal with us; the answer to that is no. I am happy to meet him again, as I did during the progress of the previous Trade Bill, to discuss his other points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) made an important point about the US section 230 and how it is dealt with in the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement. I know he has had repeated assurances from the Secretary of State but, again, I am happy to meet him to discuss these issues. We heard an excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), talking about high-quality produce in rural Wales. It is worth pointing out that, although it is not covered in this Bill, the prospective US free trade agreement is a great opportunity for farmers in his constituency to be able to sell Welsh lamb into the US for the first time, and a great opportunity for Welsh cheese.

We also heard excellent speeches in support of free and global trade from my hon. Friends the Members for Witney (Robert Courts), for Stafford (Theo Clarke), for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham), for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) and for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory). We heard from the hon. Member for South Antrim (Paul Girvan), who wants Northern Ireland to benefit from all UK trade deals. That is absolutely clear in the withdrawal agreement and it is one of our commitments. The hon. Member for Belfast South (Claire Hanna) asked how many have already been rolled over. The answer is 20.

We heard from two of our brilliant trade envoys. My hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for Fylde (Mark Menzies) asked about trade with Latin America, CPTPP and ASEAN. Those are all vital. We heard important points from my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) about important industries in their constituencies. The hon. Members for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) gave continuity speeches for a continuity Bill.

Finally, this Bill is a pragmatic first step in the Government’s independent trade policy, ensuring stability now while building a bridge to the outward-looking, internationalist, truly global Britain that we envisage for our future. I urge hon. Members to reject the amendment and I commend the Bill to the House.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. I must now conclude the debate and put the questions in accordance with the order of today. Before I put the question, I confirm that Mr Speaker’s final determination is that remote Divisions will take place on the reasoned amendment and on Second Reading. There is therefore no need for me to collect the voices or for Members present in the Chamber to shout aye or no. I remind the House that the first vote is on the reasoned amendment, in the name of Keir Starmer. The question is that the amendment be made, and it falls to be decided by a remote Division. The Clerk will now initiate the Division on MemberHub.

00:02
The House proceeded to a remote Division.
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The remote voting period has now finished. I will announce the result of the Division shortly. As the next question is contingent on the outcome of this Division, I will suspend the House for five minutes.

17:41
Sitting suspended.
17:46
On resuming—
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can now announce the result of the remote Division.

Question, That the amendment be made.

Division 48

Ayes: 262


Labour: 198
Scottish National Party: 46
Liberal Democrat: 11
Plaid Cymru: 3
Conservative: 2
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 352


Conservative: 345
Democratic Unionist Party: 7

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We now come to the Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time. The Question falls to be decided by a remote Division. The Clerk will now initiate the Division on MemberHub.

Question put.

The House proceeded to a remote Division.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The remote voting period has now finished. I will announce the result of the Division shortly. As the next Question is contingent on the outcome of that Division, I suspend the House for three minutes.

18:02
Sitting suspended.
18:05
On resuming—
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can now announce the result of the remote Division that has just taken place.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Division 49

Ayes: 355


Conservative: 347
Democratic Unionist Party: 7
Labour: 1

Noes: 254


Labour: 191
Scottish National Party: 46
Liberal Democrat: 11
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 2
Alliance: 1
Green Party: 1
Conservative: 1

Bill read a Second time.
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The announcement was made to the House earlier this afternoon regarding the provisional determination that a remote Division would not take place on the following questions relating to the programme motion and money resolution. That is also the final determination.

TRADE BILL (PROGRAMME)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Trade Bill:

Committal

The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 25 June 2020.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed. —(Iain Stewart.)

Question agreed to.

TRADE BILL (MONEY)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Trade Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred by a Minister of the Crown, government department or other public authority under or by virtue of the Act.—(Iain Stewart.)

Question agreed to.

Trade Bill (Second sitting)

Committee stage & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Trade Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 16 June 2020 - (16 Jun 2020)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: † Sir Graham Brady, Judith Cummins
† Anderson, Fleur (Putney) (Lab)
† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)
Clarke, Theo (Stafford) (Con)
† Courts, Robert (Witney) (Con)
† Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab)
† Fletcher, Katherine (South Ribble) (Con)
Griffith, Andrew (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
† Hands, Greg (Minister for Trade Policy)
† Hendry, Drew (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
† Higginbotham, Antony (Burnley) (Con)
Hosie, Stewart (Dundee East) (SNP)
† Johnston, David (Wantage) (Con)
† Nichols, Charlotte (Warrington North) (Lab)
Rowley, Lee (North East Derbyshire) (Con)
† Thomas, Gareth (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
† Webb, Suzanne (Stourbridge) (Con)
† Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
Kenneth Fox, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Witnesses
George Riddell, Director, Trade Policy, Ernst & Young
Professor L. Alan Winters, UK Trade Policy Observatory
Nick von Westenholz, EU Exit and International Trade Director, National Farmers’ Union
Richard Warren, Head of Policy & External Affairs, UK Steell
Ian Cranshaw, Head of International Trade and Operations Manager at Chemicals Northwest, Chemical Industries Association
Rosa Crawford, Policy Officer, Trades Union Congress
George Peretz QC, Monkton Chambers
Simon Walker CBE, Chair Designate, Trade Remedies Authority
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 16 June 2020
(Afternoon)
[Sir Graham Brady in the Chair]
Trade Bill
14:00
The Committee deliberated in private.
Examination of Witnesses
George Riddell and Professor L. Alan Winters gave evidence.
14:02
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Before I welcome the witnesses, I remind everybody to please switch their electronic devices to silent. Tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings, but Members can obviously drink water. I also remind Members that the Hansard reporters would be very grateful if they could email electronic copies of their speaking notes to hansardnotes@parliament.uk.

We will now take evidence from the first panel. I welcome George Riddell, the director of trade policy at Ernst & Young, who is here in person, and I hope I can welcome Alan Winters of the UK Trade Policy Observatory. I think Charlotte Nichols wants to make a declaration.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to declare an interest: my father is the president of the TUC this year.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Professor Winters, I am Graham Brady, and I am chairing the Committee. I know that you cannot see me and we cannot see you, so I am going to make sure everybody lets you know who is speaking to you when they are asking questions and making points.

I thank Professor Winters and Mr Riddell for joining us and helping the deliberations of the Committee. As Chairman, I am entirely independent. I will not be involved in the questioning, but I will be calling others to put their questions to you. I first call Bill Esterson, who is the shadow Minister. Could you introduce yourself before you start?

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q30 Thank you, Graham. I thank both our witnesses. Professor Winters, can you hear me okay?

Professor Winters: I can if I concentrate hard.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q The first question is to both of you. Can you give an outline of your analysis of the Bill and any gaps in it that you think might be rectified?

Professor Winters: In general, the Bill is trying to do sensible things in a basically sensible way. The issues that arise are about whether or not it is drafted in a way that would allow it to be used for things beyond these intentions.

For instance, it says that the Government do not expect to make major changes with this Bill, yet the procedures that it will set up might allow a Government that wished to do so to make really quite dramatic changes through secondary legislation. As we know, and you know better than me, secondary legislation is not typically challenged. For instance, under the GPA—the agreement on government procurement—if I understand it correctly, the Government have the power to make changes in the coverage of the agreement. A lot of that is about new members, which seems sensible, but if I understand it correctly, it also seems to be about the coverage of sectors within the UK.

When we deal with non-tariff provisions in the trade continuity agreements, for instance, the mutual recognition agreements are very serious bits of trade policy, particularly for services sectors. I think a non-tariff provision would include things like sanitary and phytosanitary regulations and technical barriers to trade. These are mostly governed by EU law at the moment, and in implementing a trade agreement, the Government could change a number of them. Rather than having to bring them back to the legislature as primary legislation, they would actually be able to move through a secondary legislation process, so I think there needs to be a little more attention on the potential spread of the use of this. The Bill can also be extended indefinitely in five-year periods. That seems to me to be not in the spirit of the Bill, which is about cleaning up.

Let me make one last point. The Bill is obviously designed, in terms of trade agreements, to deal with the continuity trade agreements, but there are at least two cases that, so far as I can see, will fall under the Bill and will really go further than just tidying up the details so that trade can continue. The first is UK-Korea. Korea and the UK have signed a continuity trade agreement, but with a commitment to renegotiate a fuller and more ambitious free trade agreement within two years. So far as I can tell, any of that would essentially be covered under this Trade Bill. Similarly with Japan, we do not really know what the Government intend to discuss with the Japanese Government, but the analysis that we got last month was—what shall we say?—studiously unspecific. Essentially, it reads as if it is going to be basically a new agreement; in a sense, the table is blank, and stuff will be put on or taken off. However, so far as I can tell, because Japan had an agreement with the EU on 31 January, it will be covered by the Trade Bill. Korea and Japan are two major trading partners, and this might not get very much scrutiny, essentially because you can undertake quite major changes under the heading of the Bill, which I interpreted largely as a tidying-up Bill.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Professor Winters. Before I ask George Riddell to answer the same questions, I will ask a couple of follow-ups to what you said. You spoke about the GPA, and I think you mentioned changes in coverage of sectors in the UK. What did you mean by that?

Professor Winters: The WTO’s government procurement agreement is restricted to the set of countries that have signed it, so quite a lot of this Bill is about what we do when that set of countries changes: what concessions do we expect from them and offer them? That seems, in a sense, to be fairly uncontentious. The other element of coverage is that the Government lists in the annexes to the government procurement agreement the sectors, and the thresholds for procurement in those sectors, that will be open, subject to the GPA’s requirements. I think that the powers in the Bill permit the Government to change that as they will, rather than, given that who you allow to bid for different bits of procurement is a fairly major piece of public policy, having a process that is open to more scrutiny.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have one other follow-up question from your initial remarks. You spoke about the implementation of trade agreements and said that the Government could change them without primary legislation. Could you say why you are particularly concerned by that aspect of the legislation?

Professor Winters: Yes. The traditional way that we have handled trade agreements and, as far as one can tell, the Government’s intention going forward, is to say that the Government negotiate these treaties under the royal prerogative but that, to the extent that they require changes in regulation in domestic law, these will come to Parliament. In cases where that would normally be primary legislation, those changes will have to be made by Parliament through the processes for primary legislation.

What this Bill does—and it is the same in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—is say that a number of things can be changed by secondary legislation, even though they were originally set out under EU procedures through routes for primary legislation. It potentially brings to Ministers a number of issues one would generally expect to have the full scrutiny of Parliament. It would be a process that allows a little bit of scrutiny, the affirmative process, which, de facto, does not seem to result in very much. Again, in a sense, the worry is not that one might need these powers to tidy up a clause here or there, but that, in fact, quite serious issues would suddenly fall to the discretion of the Minister.

One of my colleagues, Emily Lydgate, has investigated this on environmental regulations under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, and it is fairly alarming. As far as I can see, one could fall into that situation through the Trade Bill in the sense that the Japanese or Korean trade agreement could agree something that would normally be subject to primary legislation within the UK but that can now be handled with secondary legislation under the cover of the Trade Bill.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I would like to ask George Riddell to answer the opening question. Feel free to pick up any of what Professor Winters has said.

George Riddell: Thank you; it is a pleasure to be here. I would characterise the Bill as creating the baseline of the UK’s trade policy. It tries to continue the basic trading conditions for rest-of-world trade that UK business currently enjoys.

That includes the continuity agreements. A lot of people, when commenting on those agreements, go straight to the tariffs: “If you don’t have a continuity agreement, you’ll face tariffs; if you do, it will continue as it currently is.” For the services sector, which I represent, there are also important establishment provisions within the services trade chapters of those agreements and mobility provisions that allow business travellers to travel between the UK and those third countries to supply services. The discussion about the continuity agreements and ensuring that the UK is able to continue to trade past 31 December this year is therefore wider.

The same goes for the government procurement agreement. The UK has enjoyed the status of the government procurement agreement at the WTO since its creation in 1995, although its membership of that particular agreement came through the European Union.

I will pick up two points that Professor Winters talked about. First, yes, new members join the GPA on a fairly regular basis. There are a number of ongoing accessions to the agreement, some with shorter timeframes than others. It is right that there is provision for the agreement to expand, as it naturally does, at the WTO. The other point is about the coverage and the entities. The UK list of covered entities is rather out of date. Many current Government Departments are not listed as part of coverage under the GPA, so the list is very outdated. Therefore, even if the thresholds the UK has signed up to as part of the GPA are not changed, there is a need for a technical update of the UK’s commitment to reflect the current machinery of government.

We are also establishing the TRA and bringing back powers from the Commission in Brussels to establish a trade remedies regime here in the UK. On the statistics front, which is very important in making trade policy, I would flag the interest in improving the trade in services statistics for the UK. Trade in services statistics are notoriously unreliable, and powers in the Bill could be used to make the UK a leader in how we measure services trade in this country and globally.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you for that. To compare what you and Professor Winters said about the update of the entities under the GPA provisions, you referred to what you termed “technical updates” on things like the names of Government Departments, whereas Professor Winters spoke about more substantive areas of change, such as environmental ones. Will you pick up the concern that he raised about the need for additional scrutiny and the expectation that there would be a more detailed approach than mere technical updates?

George Riddell: If I understood correctly, Professor Winters’ point was about the potential for including new entities on the list and going further than the UK’s current commitments with regard to the GPA, leaving the continuity agreements question to one side. There are two aspects here. From my understanding of discussions in Geneva, they have been very focused on understanding what the UK’s current machinery of government looks like and how that could be represented as part of its GPA commitments. Certainly, the Government have said, from my understanding, that they do not intend to change the scope of the commitments, even if technical updates are necessary. I would not want to go further than that.

Katherine Fletcher Portrait Katherine Fletcher (South Ribble) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Hello, Mr Riddell. Thanks for coming. I hope that the Committee will bear with me, as this is slightly out of the scope of the Bill, but I was particularly intrigued by the point that you made about measuring our trade and exports in services better. You alluded to a way to become a global leader. What would good look like in that space, as we look to get the Bill through and then move on to the next phase?

George Riddell: Two initiatives have been undertaken recently. One is that the Office for National Statistics has launched its experimental trade in services datasets, which it is looking to continually improve. Anything that supported that initiative would certainly look good. For the past Trade Bill, in the previous Parliament, a number of organisations, such as TheCityUK, put forward written evidence with more concrete suggestions. I do not have that with me, unfortunately, but I am happy to share it.

Coming to the point on the data being notoriously unreliable, both the US and the UK claim that they have a trade surplus in services with each other. There have been a number of attempts by statisticians on both sides to try to bottom out why that might be the case. It goes to show that, often, trade in services statistics are indicative and a good rule of thumb, but putting too much faith in them is not necessarily a wise move.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Professor Winters, you were talking earlier about how the procedures, as set up, would allow the Government to set up major changes through secondary legislation without, perhaps, sufficient scrutiny. What powers do you believe Parliament should have in that situation over the Trade Bill?

Professor Winters: I confess that I do not know how to draft it in legislation, but I would suggest that one has something in the Bill that gives concrete form to the statements that we have that the Government expect not to use it to make major changes, and that such changes would come with primary legislation. At a practical level, one would need some sort of early-stage scrutiny to identify issues that were mere technicalities or minor issues, and to flag up larger issues that might require primary legislation.

I am afraid I am not a draftsman. I do not know how to write that, but it seems to me that that is what we require. This is a very sensible, pragmatic tidying-up Bill, but it seems to have loose ends that might, under some circumstances, lead to places other than those that the Bill says it is intended to cover, and more than the House would wish.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Mr Riddell, you touched on services. I was thinking about the OECD report on what will happen to the economy. One of the reasons we will be particularly badly hit is the reliance on services, albeit that we will rebound quicker in the second year. I wonder what you think the consequences of not having the Bill would be for the service sector, which you are a member of.

George Riddell: In terms of the service sector, I would say that the two biggest elements are definitely the continuity agreements and the government procurement agreement. The government procurement agreement, although it largely covers goods, has several services provisions in it that are particularly important for small and medium-sized enterprises that operate cross-border government procurement contracts.

On the continuity agreements, it is difficult to say exactly, because there is different coverage in each of the continuity agreements for different service sectors. Broadly speaking, you have the horizontal elements in the more advanced trade agreements, such as that with Korea, which covers investment and establishment for service providers, and additional mobility provisions for short-term business visitors and the suppliers of services.

There are also, in some of those agreements, additional commitments on the digital economy, and how the UK and the third country can co-operate in order to foster more digital trade, which is of growing importance, particularly in the light of the pandemic that we are experiencing. I know that many of the people here have dialled in or participated remotely in these sittings, so it is a very pertinent topic for the service sector.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q My question is to both contributors; thank you very much for coming. It is about our trade with developing countries. Looking specifically at sanitary and phytosanitary measures, which Professor Winters mentioned and which can be used as trade barriers, but also looking in general, could the Bill be detrimental for developing countries, and how could it be improved to complement our poverty reduction commitments?

Professor Winters: I do not see strong and direct implications for our relationship with developing countries. Most of the countries with which we are signing these continuity agreements are, in fact, developing countries. I think the issue again, essentially, is that the Minister has powers to make regulations concerning non-tariff provisions, and some of those regulations could indeed rebound to the disadvantage of the countries we are dealing with—those on the other side. For instance, if we have issues surrounding conditions of entry for particular goods, the Bill might be used to tighten those up.

Having said that, the agreements we have with the developing countries—the continuity agreements—have genuinely continued, so far as they can, trade relations with those countries. There are some complications that are not in our gift, such as rules of origin, but I understand that the agreements that have been signed already under the heading of continuity trade agreements have made no changes, so far as access to the UK economy is concerned.

There is nothing I have seen in the Bill that is specific to developing countries that raises an alarm, but on the other hand, it is not clear that trade with developing countries is exempt from my residual nervousness about what the Bill might be used for under less satisfactory circumstances.

George Riddell: One thing that I am keen to emphasise is how the UK’s trading relationship with developing countries is split across the continuity agreements contained in the Bill and the customs Act, which gives effect to the generalised system of preferences and duty-free, quota-free access for least-developed-country exporters. You have the continuity agreements under this Bill, but there are also very important trade provisions in the customs Act, and making sure that they are aligned and work together to support developing countries’ trade into the UK is very important.

As for your question about SPS measures specifically, in my experience of working in developing countries and looking at how they trade, one of the biggest things is meeting food standards, health standards and environmental standards. The UK does capacity building very well through DFID—pending recent announcements today—and through programmes such as aid for trade in developing countries, in order to allow businesses and exporters to take advantage of the provisions in the trade agreements and EPAs.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Professor Winters, much of the debate so far has focused on continuity agreements, but I want to take you to new free trade agreements, which are another area of contention in the Bill. Will you compare the process for scrutiny of new free trade agreements, for example with the US, under the CRAG process with the processes of scrutiny in other Parliaments, including the US Congress?

Professor Winters: I am not a huge fan of the process that we have under the CRAG, which seems to me to allow the Executive a bit too much scope to do things unscrutinised—

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will try to find out whether we still have Professor Winters. Mr Thomas is there something you would like to pursue?

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would very much like to hear what he has to say. [Interruption.]

Professor Winters: I did not catch all of your question. With the process we would be using for, say, the agreement with the US, my honest preference is that we would set up a system for new trade agreements that involved more formal consultation and more reporting back to Parliament than is obligatory under the CRAG. In one sense, I see the Trade Bill offering an even easier route for Executive decisions than the standard CRAG procedure, and I do not think that will really give us enough scope for bringing Parliament and the people along.

I think the issue, essentially, is that if this was abused in order to try to introduce major changes, there would be even less defence. There is no commitment to discuss, consult and so on, and the Minister is being granted extensive secondary legislative powers. Under the CRAG, although the treaty has to be approved through an affirmative process, if changes in domestic law are required to implement it as a new trade agreement, it would potentially have to go through primary legislation. As far as I can tell, that is not required here for any of the continuity agreements.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q To follow up on that, I want to ask you to compare what would be envisaged under CRAG for future FTAs with what happens in other countries’ Parliaments in terms of the scrutiny of free trade agreements.

Professor Winters: In general, most other countries have processes that involve more formally required consultation and rather more engagement with the legislature as the process goes through. For instance, in the USA there is a whole series of trade advisory committees—I think that is what they are called—which the Government speak to on a confidential basis. There is formal approval of a mandate, particularly if they want to do something on fast-track.

Those are things we do not have in the UK. We do not yet have a completely definitive statement about how these things will be handled, but essentially the CRAG process is fairly light on scrutiny and consultation. Compared with Australia, the US and Canada—where there is, if not constitutionally, at least informally a good deal of consultation with the provinces—we have a system that allows the Government rather more discretion.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We have to conclude by 2.40 pm, so I think this will be the last question.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I want to pick up those points with both of you. You were referring, Professor Winters, to the US trade rep approach, whereby they go out, engage and consult and then set the parameters of what the negotiation objectives should be. For the purposes of clarity, do you think that setting that up is a massive missing piece in this legislation, as it would enable visible parliamentary involvement and the involvement of relative organisations, such as trade unions, sectors and devolved powers, to establish buy-in and engagement? If it is missing, should it now be put back in?

Professor Winters: For the Trade Bill, which is presented as a piece of legislation to make it feasible to roll over the continuity agreements that we are trying only to roll over and not to change—we have already joined the GPA and are not trying to change our schedule—you do not necessarily need a huge apparatus. If we get into a situation where the Trade Bill is used to make quite dramatic differences to the arrangement with Korea or to make essentially a new agreement with Japan, it is unfortunate that there would be less of an obligation to consult the devolved Administrations, parts of the legislature and stakeholders. The solution is not so much to nail those processes on to the side of the Trade Bill, as to try to find a way to ensure that the Trade Bill is not used for purposes that involve a major change relative to the status quo.

George Riddell: I agree with many of the comments made by Professor Winters and would add two additional points. The first is on consultation and its importance. Not only does it help the UK to identify what its offensive and defensive interests are and how best to achieve them through negotiations; it also helps to build political support. The thing that businesses want when they are looking to use trade agreements is the certainty that, when they make an investment under the provisions, in five, 10 or 15 years they will continue to be able to trade under the terms of that trade agreement. By not having wide consultation and the necessary support, it calls into question that certainty. The question of scrutiny and everything else is for this House and this Committee, but from a business perspective, we want widespread support for the trade agreements so that they can continue into the future.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can I ask a 20-second supplementary, Chair?

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

You can try.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q In your view, both of you, would UK-US negotiations be covered by this Bill?

George Riddell: My understanding from reading the Bill is that it covers the continuity agreements that existed between the EU and third countries.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Professor Winters?

Professor Winters: Is somebody trying to get my attention? I am afraid you all faded away.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sorry, I was just asking whether you feel that the Bill covers the current UK-US negotiations.

Professor Winters: As I understand it, the Bill does not cover current negotiations with the US. It is restricted to those countries that had agreements with the European Union on 31 January this year.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

That brings us neatly to the end of the time allotted for questions to these witnesses. I thank both of the witnesses, Mr Riddell here in person and Professor Winters struggling with technology to join us. It is very kind of you both to assist. Thank you very much.

We will have a brief suspension while we engineer the next session.

14:40
Sitting suspended.
Examination of Witness
Nick von Westenholz gave evidence.
00:00
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Welcome, Mr von Westenholz. We have until 3.10 pm to hear evidence in this session with the National Farmers Union. Will you give a brief introduction of yourself for the record?

Nick von Westenholz: Good afternoon, Chair, and thank you. The NFU has submitted evidence on the Trade Bill. We will come to more detailed questions, but we want to raise two issues in particular: one is on trade and standards of food production, which is not covered in the Bill at present but we think ought to be; and the other is the issue that has been discussed at some length, which is scrutiny of trade agreements, both roll-over and future agreements.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you very much. I should have introduced myself. I am Graham Brady, and I am chairing the session. I will call other Members to speak but will not ask questions myself. We will start with the shadow Minister.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon, Mr von Westenholz, and thank you for giving evidence. What additional elements would you like to see addressed in the Bill or, to put it another way, are there any gaps in the Bill?

Nick von Westenholz: As I mentioned, one of the key issues that we have raised about the Bill and, indeed, the Government’s broader trade policy is to do with the way in which food imports are dealt with, in particular the standards of production of those food imports. I am sure that members of the Committee are well aware of many of the concerns that have been expressed for a number of months—even a number of years now—about the implications of future trade agreements for the standards of food imports.

The Trade Bill deals only with our existing agreements by merit of our former membership of the EU, and not with future trade agreements. It is really future trade agreements where many of the issues lie. Nevertheless, we think that this is an issue for this Bill because of something that has been communicated to us on a number of occasions in recent months. We had lobbied on the Agriculture Bill—[Interruption.]

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Mr von Westenholz, we have a bell ringing at the moment, for a three-minute suspension of the sitting in the Chamber. It will stop shortly, but will ring again when the sitting starts. It is probably worth pausing while the bell rings.

Apologies for the interruption—do continue.

Nick von Westenholz: Not at all. I was just referring to the passage of the Agriculture Bill, to which a number of amendments were tabled attempting to address this issue of trade and food standards. It was often stated in our conversations with MPs about that Bill that it was not the correct vehicle for dealing with the matter, because it was a matter for the Trade Bill. We listened to that advice and we are looking at the Trade Bill as a legitimate and suitable piece of legislation to address the issue.

It is a complicated issue; there is no doubt about that. It is not necessarily straightforward to legislate in a way that manages the broader issue of ensuring that food imports meet standards of production equivalent to those that UK farmers are required to meet, but there are ways of doing it; some of the amendments tabled to the Agriculture Bill were well drafted to meet that aim. We certainly think that it is a shortcoming of this Bill that there is no provision for that sort of legislative approach.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you for that very comprehensive overview. You pointed out that the Bill covers the continuity agreements. Could you explain your concern that it will go beyond that? What is it that makes you think that it will go beyond dealing with the continuity agreements that it refers to? Is it just from what you have been told, or are there other things that lead you to that conclusion?

Nick von Westenholz: The Bill as it stands does not go beyond continuity agreements. The provisions in clause 2, for example, seem clearly to deal with those continuity agreements that we are currently party to, or were party to as a member of the EU. Going further would require new clauses, certainly; the reason why, as you imply, we want to explore whether that is appropriate is that the point has been made on numerous occasions in recent weeks that the Trade Bill is the appropriate vehicle for that.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q As I understand it, a potential deal between the UK and Canada would come within the scope of the Bill as it is currently drafted. If I remember rightly, the National Farmers Union had some concerns about the EU-Canada deal—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement. Could you remind us of them? Could you also give us a clue as to whether you would have similar concerns about a UK-Canada deal?

Nick von Westenholz: Sorry, the sound is not great, but I think that that question was about our potential concerns with the EU’s CETA deal and whether we have concerns about a UK-Canada deal.

Maybe the best answer is that all trade deals, whether they are continuity or future trade agreements, present opportunities for UK farmers. We are very keen to make that clear: we are certainly not opposed to the notion of free trade agreements, and we hope that they might present opportunities to increase our exports of our fantastic food.

At the same time, however, all trade agreements will also look to increase access to UK markets for overseas producers, which will increase competition for UK farmers. Again, that in itself is fine, but we want to ensure that that competition is fair—whether it is Canadian farmers, US farmers or anybody else. The reason why we talk about overseas farmers meeting equivalent standards to UK farmers’ is simply on the basis of fairness; we are certainly not opposed to trade liberalisation, as long as that liberalisation is fair.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have two questions. First, on the equivalent standards that you were just talking about, specifically those on animal health and welfare, can you give any more examples of how UK farmers could be undercut or treated detrimentally if that is not explicitly included in the Bill?

Secondly, on trade information, clause 7 provides new powers for HMRC to collect information on the identity and number of UK exporters, but the Government have said that providing that information will be voluntary. What impact would that position have on your members?

Nick von Westenholz: I will answer the second question first because, I am afraid, my answer will be brief. We have members who are exporters as well, but most of our members are probably not directly exporting themselves—they will be at the start of the supply chain; it will probably be their customers who are exporting. We have not yet done any assessment on what the impact of those provisions would be, so I am afraid that I cannot comment directly on that, although I suspect that it would be minimal.

Coming to the first question, the point is that UK farmers—like most EU farmers—operate under high standards of production in terms of the requirements they observe, particularly on animal welfare, for example. That is not to say that there are not farmers around the world who operate high standards of welfare. But in many cases in the UK, those are legal requirements, for example those around stocking densities for poultry, access to light, limitations on veterinary medicines that they can use—antibiotics, for example—and many other things. All those will have a connected direct or indirect cost for farmers, and will increase the cost of production in comparison to farmers overseas, who do not have to meet the same requirements.

For farmers who then have to compete directly against produce that is produced more cheaply because the regulatory burden is lower, it is, for us, a simple issue of fairness. In a way, I am loth to put too much emphasis on the differences of approach, because, as I have said, many farmers overseas will produce to high welfare, but we know that many farmers overseas produce to lower requirements because, very simply, they are not required to by their legal and regulatory structures.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you for the examples on animal health. Similarly, for plant health, do you have any examples of how there will be a difference between our farmers and those in other countries, and of what a lowering of those standards might mean?

Nick von Westenholz: The EU—and, by extension, the UK at the moment—operates a plant protection approvals regime that is much more precautionary that in other parts of the world. That means that UK farmers have access to far fewer plant protection products—pesticides, say—than many of their counterparts in other parts of the world. Again, that really comes down to an issue of equity if they are then being asked to compete against those farmers who have access to many more technologies, which UK farmers do not.

We have to distinguish between the issue of fair competition and what those standards would actually be. As I have said, the EU approach is very precautionary and there is—and there should be—an ongoing debate about what sort of standards are required when it comes to plant health and plant protection.

It is not always as easy as saying, “Lower standards or higher standards?” about these things. There is, for example, a long-standing debate about the use of glyphosate, the most widely used weed killer in the world. Although people might prefer less glyphosate use, or even for it to be banned, doing so would probably result in more carbon emissions, because farmers would be required to cultivate more and use more tractors passes. They would use more fuel as they go over the land and release more carbon into the atmosphere as they plant as part of weed control.

These issues are not always straightforward, and there needs to be a proper debate about an appropriate level of protection that also provides farmers with the tools that they need. It is important to take the opportunity to distinguish between debating what our standards ought to be and ensuring fairness and equity in competing with farmers overseas once a decision has been reached about what those standards are.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Nick, in your first answer you said that even continuity agreements provide opportunities. I wonder what opportunities for farmers these continuity agreements create.

Nick von Westenholz: I guess I am thinking about some of the continuity agreements that are not quite continuity agreements—for example, the Japan agreement, which is being renegotiated. Certainly, we would hope that there is the opportunity for UK farmers to open up more markets in the far east.

Really what I was saying was that, as farmers, we want to be ambitious about increasing the markets, whether at home or overseas, for our produce. If we are going to increase them overseas, we have to recognise that that assumes a degree of free trade, international trade and imports. We certainly want to expand those overseas opportunities, and it may be that some of those continuity agreements, which are being looked at again, provide particular opportunities.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Hi, Nick. Good to hear from you again. I just want to pick up the point about standards and get your views on mutual recognition agreements and how they will play for the farming sector. Do you have concerns about them? Can they hide a multitude of sins? On the Trade Remedies Authority, do you have any concerns about the Bill? Are there any omissions that might leave the farming and agri-food sector exposed?

Nick von Westenholz: I got the second question. Could you repeat the first question, sorry?

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I was just asking about standards and mutual recognition agreements, and whether you have concerns that MRAs could potentially hide a multitude of sins.

Nick von Westenholz: In principle, the idea of mutual recognition agreements can work. There is nothing that we would object to in an MRA in principle. An important aspect of this is that, if we simply try to hold overseas producers to precisely the same standards as UK producers, that might create as many problems as it solves. We need to develop a mechanism for comparing standards as easily as possible to certify, accredit or whatever it might be a degree or level of production standards that we accept as equivalent to our own.

A lot of the things I have mentioned already demonstrate the complexity and difficulty with some of these issues. That is one of the reasons why we have suggested the establishment of a trade and food and farming standards commission to get under the skin of all these pretty tricky policy areas and set out a road map for Government of the sort of policies and legislation needed to tackle the issues properly. We would like that to be established in law, under the Trade Bill or any other legislation, so that it reports to Parliament and contributes to some of the shortfalls in parliamentary accountability and scrutiny that have already been flagged to the Committee. We think that that is a very good and sensible idea. That commission would absolutely look at such things as MRAs and broader issues of how you manage and measure equivalence.

On the Trade Remedies Authority, we have not flagged any specific concerns other than to acknowledge that the constitution of the committee is very broad, and quite a lot of leeway is provided to the Secretary of State in the formation of that committee. We would like to explore further the possibility of ensuring specific representation for specific sectors if necessary. Having said that, we would hope that the TRA, even in its current format as set out by the Bill, would consult fully and take into account all parts of the economy when advising on trade remedies.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Coming back to what you were saying about the negotiation of the new Japan agreement, my understanding is that the existing EU-Japan agreement does not include animal welfare provisions. When it is renegotiated, are there implications for animal welfare and food standard provisions in the renegotiation of the new UK-Japan deal?

Nick von Westenholz: There is the prospect of including those sorts of provisions in any of the deals that the UK Government are either currently negotiating or imminently going to negotiate. I am not sure that that is an issue specific to the continuity agreements. Countries all around the world are increasingly considering how such issues can be better accommodated in trade deals. Traditionally, they have not been part of trade agreements, although we have seen in the draft text between the EU and Mercosur, for example, provisions for preferential access to Mercosur for eggs where the production standards have been equivalent to animal welfare requirements in the EU, which is interesting.

This is a really important point: the UK Government should be seizing this moment to be a global leader in negotiating trade agreements that accommodate some of these sorts of policy areas, such as animal welfare, environmental impacts and climate change, and being creative and imaginative in how future trade agreements ought to look—not looking backwards and seeing how trade agreements have been done in the past, and merely looking to replicate those.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

That brings us almost exactly to the end of our allotted time. Thank you, Mr von Westenholz, for your assistance to the Committee in giving evidence. We will again suspend briefly while we prepare for the next evidence session.

15:09
Sitting suspended.
Examination of Witnesses
Richard Warren and Ian Cranshaw gave evidence.
15:13
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Our third panel of witnesses giving oral evidence is from Make UK and the Chemical Industries Association. We have until quarter to 4. Could I ask both witnesses to introduce themselves for the record—first Richard Warren in the room, and then Mr Cranshaw?

Richard Warren: I am Richard Warren, head of policy and external affairs at UK Steel. Although UK Steel sits within the wider organisation of Make UK, I will be speaking specifically on behalf of UK Steel and the steel industry rather than the wider manufacturing sector.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

If you would like to make any opening remarks, you are welcome to.

Richard Warren: Certainly. The Trade Bill deals with a number of issues that are extremely important to the steel industry, not least the one I am most keen to discuss this afternoon: trade remedies. Of just over 40 measures that are being carried over from the EU, 15 or 16 relate to steel, so we are probably more affected than any other sector in UK industry. Obviously the vast majority of that regime and how it will operate is dealt with by the customs Bill, so I will not dwell on it too much, but the Trade Bill is critical in establishing the Trade Remedies Authority as an independent authority that can act independently from the Department for International Trade.

The second element, of equal importance to the steel industry, is the continuity of trade agreements. There are a number of trade agreements, particularly with Turkey, that I would highlight as critical for establishing continuity with. Turkey is our third biggest export market after the EU and the US, accounting for 300,000 tonnes, which is about 8% of UK exports. The ability of the Bill to ensure that we can have as much of a continuity arrangement as possible with Turkey and with other, smaller export markets is paramount to the steel sector.

The other issues dealt with in the Bill are of lesser importance but are still worth commenting on. The UK steel industry obviously supplies public contracts in other countries, so ensuring that we are still members of the GPA after the end of this year is critical for the steel sector. In terms of data management and data sharing, there is already an issue that has come up during the transition period and the process before that. Ensuring that HMRC is able to share data with the Department for International Trade is extremely important to us, and I will touch on that later.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Q Thank you very much, Mr Warren. Mr Cranshaw, please introduce yourself and make any opening remarks you have.

Ian Cranshaw: Good afternoon, Chair, and thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee today. My name is Ian Cranshaw. I am head of international trade at the Chemical Industries Association. The CIA has been around for over 50 years, and it represents and advises chemical and pharmaceutical companies located across the UK. Our core membership is a mix of chemical and pharma companies. They are all obviously treated as UK companies, but many of them are multinational companies using the UK as a base for their European and UK operations. We have small and medium-sized enterprises and MNCs.

Chemicals is a significantly enabling industry for downstream manufacturing. I think that most members of the Committee will understand that chemicals are a key ingredient in 96% of manufactured goods, so pretty much everything you see, touch, drink or use will have chemicals in it.

That is our intro. I am sorry—I did not really hear what you wanted me to focus on straight after the introduction, Chair.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will move to questions now, Mr Cranshaw, but that is very helpful. Thank you. We will start with Bill Esterson, who is the shadow Minister.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Good afternoon, Mr Warren and Mr Cranshaw; thank you for joining us. May I ask you about the Trade Remedies Authority? How is the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate, which is the TRA’s current form as part of the Department for International Trade, performing? How is it working with your organisations? Added to that, could you both comment on the proposed membership of the TRA and on what that should be? Richard Warren, would you like to go first?

Richard Warren: Certainly. We have a very good relationship with the organisation, as it currently exists within the DIT. There is only one live case—a case on welded tubes that are produced in Corby by Tata Steel, which I believe has been live for three months now—and we have had very good engagement with the organisation.

One critical issue is our ability as a sector to participate in trade remedies investigations, and particularly to finance them. I do not think it will be any surprise to people in the room that those cases cost an awful lot of money, particularly at this stage, when, frankly, industry in the UK does not have the same level of expertise that our European counterparts do. Bringing in external legal support and external consultancy has been critical, and our ability to do that as a sector has been severely disrupted by coronavirus. To put it bluntly, discretionary spend within many manufacturing companies, including in the steel industry, has effectively been halted. I say that to point out that we have asked for an extension with the TRA, and it has been as flexible as possible in providing us with an additional three months. I provide that case as an example to show that we have a very good working relationship with it .

In terms of how well, practically, those investigations will operate on an ongoing basis, and whether we feel that we are getting a fair hearing, I cannot comment on that yet, in the sense that we really are at the very first stages of the first investigation. We have another two or three investigations to go through this year. If I was to comment again at the beginning of 2021, I would probably have a more informed opinion.

To touch on the second question, about the membership of the Trade Remedies Authority, that is an important point. I would say that it is probably the only outstanding issue specifically within the trade remedies element of the Bill that we would still be pushing for reform of. In terms of the non-executive membership selected by the Secretary of State and appointed by them and the chair, there is no stipulation about how, or where from within industry and wider society, those members will be chosen.

That is an important point, because nowhere does the Trade Bill, the customs Bill or the secondary legislation actually define the role of the non-executive membership of the Trade Remedies Authority. All reference to decisions by the Trade Remedies Authority— recommendations to the Secretary of State—are referred to as, “The Trade Remedies Authority will do x or y.” Precisely what the role of those non-executive members is is still somewhat vague.

I understand that the Government will have left it that way to provide maximum flexibility and to allow for the organisation to grow into its role and to find its feet. But, from our perspective as industry, while it remains vague, we can have anything, from the board or the non-executive membership merely providing an admin task—looking over the funding of the organisation, the remuneration of staff and so on—right through to it having influence on the recommendations that the organisation ultimately makes on anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures.

Therefore, while we have that ambiguity, industry is keen to see representation from a cross-sector of business. Everything from unions through to manufacturing interests and people who may be classified as trade remedies experts, who may have a slightly different view on trade remedies to industry, should be represented on that organisation to show there is a spectrum of views.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Before I ask Mr Cranshaw to answer the same questions, may I ask a follow-up, Mr Warren? How essential is it that the non-executive membership is drawn from people in different sectors of industries affected by trade remedies? Can this be done by expertise, without having those backgrounds?

Richard Warren: To a certain extent, it depends, ultimately, on the role of the non-executive membership. If the non-executive membership functions as a board providing steering for how the organisation operates on an admin basis, you could say it was less important. If the membership has a high level of influence over the outcomes of those investigations and the recommendations that are made, we would say it is extremely important.

On the same token, if the board membership was made up exclusively of trade lawyers from firms that have exclusively represented exporting producers, one would say that the outcome of those investigations may be biased. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you had the entire membership made up of people who had a more protectionist bent, again, that may result in a biased outcome. While we have ambiguity around the role of the non-executive membership, industry will err on the side of caution and say it should represent a range of views so that it can come to a balanced decision on whether those measures are in the interests of industry and the wider UK economy and its workers.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. Mr Cranshaw, please respond to the same questions and expand on what we have just heard from Mr Warren.

Ian Cranshaw: We started this journey back in January 2017. Previously, I would have said that policy has moved quite quickly—that was before coronavirus, where, obviously, policy has been delivered in a matter of weeks or months. However, I think some credit goes to the Department for International Trade, which has gone from a standing start, with a handful of 30 or so trade policy experts on trade defence instruments within the EU. Now, we have a significant and very capable resource in the Department. At the same time, when the Trade Bill passes, they will establish the authority, which will have 100, growing to 130, staff whose level of expertise has grown significantly over the last three years. We have seen many of them, and we have had good exposure to many of the employees of the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate.

But the point I would make, and what that highlights, is that when they were developing that knowledge, who did they turn to for expertise and the nuance of how to carry out an investigation, how to assess the injury margin and how to build a case to prove that there had been inappropriate trade behaviour by a competing company or nation? That was really about turning to the manufacturers. One of our member companies has welcomed a continuous stream of TRID or TRA officials into their facilities, explaining how to build the case, because that case has to satisfy WTO criteria. It is a significant piece of work. Mr Warren mentioned the cost of building the case, and companies do not go into this lightly.

The second part of your question was about the make-up of the TRA board and how to achieve the balance. The Minister, Mr Hands, said that you do not necessarily invite people with a specific ideological position to the board—we really want trade experts. All that I would say is that trade experts are not necessarily trade remedy experts, and often that representation from the manufacturers or trade unions—some labour point of view; labour with a small “l”—generates and delivers real balance for any non-departmental public body that has to look at the entire scenario, certainly in a period when we are looking to build back better.

I am not going to keep stealing other’s summaries of how we are trying to work, but the Government have already said that they want to rebalance the economy and put more investment in certain areas. The chemical sector is focused in the north-west of England and the north-east, along the Humber—areas that require significant investment, and they need to know that they are competing on a level playing field. All of that, with a balanced view and a balanced board, would really help to ensure that all views and positions were reflected appropriately in policy development.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you very much. While we are talking to Mr Cranshaw—others may want to come back on the trade remedy point—I wanted to ask about chemical regulations and whether you feel that there should be something in the Bill to cover them, given their importance to your industry.

Ian Cranshaw: Sorry, I heard that the question was about chemical regulation. Was it about whether chemical regulation is covered in the Bill?

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Do you think that it should be covered in the Bill? It is not, as it stands. Do you think that it should be, and why?

Ian Cranshaw: There is an awful lot of work going on in chemicals, and the Government are keen to deliver a chemical strategy. That is something that DEFRA has covered over the past couple of years, and it is right that we have one. We have no issue with the amount of regulation on the chemical industry. We are dealing with sensitive products, and they ought to be regulated in the way that they are. Again, we have had a good hearing from the Government, but it is about the criticality of making sure that any deal with the EU—this is key for us—can include access to data sharing, because we do not need to replicate the testing of individual chemicals to build up a UK database when a perfectly functional database exists at the European Chemicals Agency. There is plenty of provision elsewhere for chemicals and chemicals regulations, and I do not necessarily think that it needs to be in the Trade Bill.

Katherine Fletcher Portrait Katherine Fletcher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have the same question for both of you, with your respective hats on. You mentioned that the Bill has been knocking around since 2017. What happens to the chemical industry if we do not pass the Bill?

Ian Cranshaw: That is probably me for me, because Richard is focused on steel. It is really important. We want a Trade Remedies Authority to be established, fully functioning and delivering support for UK industry from 1 January next year. Chemicals go into every other manufactured good. There are chemicals in the automotive sector; there are chemicals in chlorination of water; there are chemicals in putting the aroma into the natural gas that we all use in our stoves every evening. Chemicals does have downstream industries that will all be impacted, so we need a strong chemicals sector.

If I am honest, looking at remedies and chemicals, there are not a huge number of current remedies in place in the EU, so when the Department transitioned those remedies that were relevant to the UK, did a call for evidence and assessed exactly which remedies should be brought into the UK, of the 23 remedies that existed in the chemicals sector, only two were transitioned into UK law. I am not suggesting that it is a huge area, but it is a very significant area, and those two remedies that are in place are very important to those companies, and to downstream industries in the UK. One of them is producing fertilizer, and it is the major supplier of that fertilizer in the UK, so you can appreciate that its availability to UK farmers is absolutely crucial to their operations. If they were exposed to unfair trade from external operators, that really would be a significant loss to UK capability, especially when we are looking at supply chains and ensuring that our really critical production is safely onshored at the moment.

Katherine Fletcher Portrait Katherine Fletcher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Mr Warren, if there were continuity trade agreements that did not roll over, what would be the consequences for the steel industry?

Richard Warren: There are a number of agreements that are obviously already in motion to be carried over. One to highlight is that north African nations like Morocco, and South Africa, are important markets for steel. It is a bigger concern that the agreement for one of the biggest markets for our UK exports, Turkey, probably will not be carried over, regardless of the Bill. Whilst the Bill would allow for it to be carried over—the steel element, without getting into too many dull details about the coal and steel free trade agreement between the UK and Turkey—it seems like it is an almost impossible ask now to get that carried over.

So that wider concern, that sits outside the Trade Bill, is a bigger one for us; it is a very important one. The Trade Bill would allow that to legally happen, but with politics and the complexities of negotiations, I fear, that agreement will not be in place by the end of the year, which would result in 15% tariffs, on average, on UK steel going to Turkey—8% of our exports. It is an extremely competitive market already; a 15% tariff would pretty much knock that on the head. At the same time, because the UK has no tariffs on steel, we would still have up to half a million tonnes of steel coming in from Turkey, but it would be a very uneven trading relationship at that point. That is probably our biggest concern at this point, in terms of continuity trade agreements.

Katherine Fletcher Portrait Katherine Fletcher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Understood. So the not passing of the Bill makes the situation impossible, probably, for certain—

Richard Warren: Obviously, yes. If we do not pass the Bill, there is no way that the Turkish agreement can be passed, but there are other complexities on top of that.

Katherine Fletcher Portrait Katherine Fletcher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Understood; that is something to avoid.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q May I delve a bit further into the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate? You were explaining, Mr Warren, about the one case going through, and some of the challenges in terms of expertise—that is, resource ability and capacity. To what extent do you think the Bill should be defining the scale of what a TRA should look like, recognising that, post this crisis, and given the economic headwinds globally prior to the crisis, there is a huge amount of pressure on Governments to reshore, with all that that will mean in terms of how Governments adhere to certain agreements? Maybe we can start with steel and go on to chemicals.

Richard Warren: Certainly. As I said, the vast majority of how the trade remedies regime will operate—the responsibilities of the organisation itself, how it reports to the Secretary of State and so on—are dealt with within the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill and the secondary legislation. There were still outstanding issues that we had with that legislation. Obviously, it has passed now, and we are working with the regime as it has been established. If we had an opportunity as an industry—we are talking about a hypothetical now—to strengthen the trade remedies regime, change elements of how it was operated, perhaps be more explicit in legislation about how those investigations are conducted, and change certain elements of the methodology, like dumping and how we treat certain non-market economies, that would be fundamentally best be dealt with in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill and the secondary legislation that supports it.

This Bill is fairly cursory in what it establishes in the trade remedies regime. Our key request at this point remains the make-up of the non-executive membership, rather than dealing with precisely how that regime operates. It really is the customs Bill that we would look to if we were making changes.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

It was a slow burn, but I have to say that the witnesses have excited the Committee, and I am getting lots of people wanting to get in, so if everybody can try to be quite crisp in their questions and answers, it would be appreciated. Antony Higginbotham next.

Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q This question is probably more for you, Mr Warren. When we talk about trade remedies and defences, a sector we always go to is steel. Has an assessment been made of the impact of not having a Trade Remedies Authority? Has any assessment been made, for example, of the number of jobs that could be at risk if the body was not set up by 1 January?

Richard Warren: As Ian Cranshaw noted earlier, we have been on this journey for quite some time. We first started having discussions on the possibility of a Trade Remedies Authority at the back end of 2016. At that stage, there obviously was uncertainty. I do not think the UK Government had thought about—no one in the UK had—the need to establish a Trade Remedies Authority. Obviously, after the Brexit vote in 2016, that became immediately apparent to the UK steel industry. So if there has been an assessment done, I suppose it was an unofficial assessment through the evidence that we provided and the discussions we had with Government, and it became evident that this was an absolute must and there was no question that the UK would need an authority. I am happy to provide further data or evidence to the Committee afterwards.

If you look at the impact that trade remedies have had on imports and on dumping into the UK, the evidence speaks for itself. It is clear. China was exporting perhaps 500,000 tonnes to the UK in 2015-16. That has been reduced to 100,000 tonnes because of the measures that have been in place on the key steel products that it was found to be dumping and that were subsidised by the Chinese state. If that had gone on—it was a major cause of the difficulties that the steel industry was undergoing in 2015-16, when we saw a major restructure of the steel industry and new ownership—and those measures had not come in, the situation would have been far more dire, and the modest recovery that the steel industry saw in 2017-18, which has obviously been knocked off course by recent events, certainly would have been far slower and far more fragile.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Mr Cranshaw, on a comment you made earlier about a deal with the EU, including an agreement on data sharing, have you done any work on the implications, resources or costs of a failure to get such a deal?

Ian Cranshaw: In chemicals, the REACH regulation is the key documentation, and that is stored by ECHA. We would accept that if you had to design a system now, it probably would not look a lot like what it does, but here we are 13 years after the ECHA database and the REACH regulations were introduced. UK companies alone have spent upwards of £600 million in furnishing that information on to the database, so you can appreciate the nervousness that, if we do not negotiate a deal with the EU that gives us access to that data, we will be back to a point where UK companies will have to rebuild a new database under UK REACH. There is no suggestion from DEFRA that we would move away from REACH. Globally it is seen as the gold standard for chemical regulation, so it is critical that we secure access to the data.

It is worth pointing out that UK companies are the second largest contributor of data to the information held on the ECHA database. Not only have our companies paid for the ability to use those chemicals, but, through their own innovation, research and capability, they have contributed significantly to the value of that database. It is crucial that we secure access to the data.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q You touched on this, but I want to ask both of you: are there particular countries with which it is very important to you to have continuity agreements, with a financial value? We have talked largely about what the Bill protects, but what do you see as the opportunities of those continuity agreements going forward?

Richard Warren: From our perspective, in terms of continuity—obviously, putting the EU to one side—the most important market is Turkey, with 300,000 tonnes and 8% of exports. It has a value of around £350 million. I can provide further details afterwards, if that would be useful. Without a shadow of a doubt, in terms of carrying over, that is the most important agreement.

There are other important markets, perhaps less for the sector as a whole but for individual companies supplying them. Manufacturing sectors in certain countries are very important, such as South Africa, Mexico and some of the north African countries I mentioned earlier. In terms of opportunity, we are essentially establishing what we already have, so it is difficult to see that there is a brand new opportunity. I wouldn’t say that it isn’t hugely important—we want to continue to trade with these countries and to make sure that we do not have a resumption of tariffs, but fundamentally the position is not going to be any different to what we currently have.

It depends on how you view the question. If you view it as, “If we don’t have this, you will have tariffs,” then there is a huge opportunity, because we would be in a worse situation than we currently are. If you view it from how we currently are, we are looking at exactly the same situation.

None Portrait The Chair
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Mr Cranshaw, I think you wanted to answer as well. Mr Cranshaw? We may have lost the line. We only have about three minutes left. Would you like to ask the witness a question, Gareth Thomas?

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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Q What difficulties do you foresee in getting the Turkey agreement concluded by the end of the year?

Richard Warren: Indeed. While it is not dealt with directly in the Bill, the complexity and complication around agreeing a deal with Turkey is that, obviously—sorry if I am teaching Members to suck eggs—it is in a customs union with the European Union. Once we have a trade deal with the European Union, we will have tariff-free access to the Turkish markets for things covered by the customs union.

Unfortunately for the steel sector, there is a rather antiquated agreement that just deals with coal and steel products. That would need to be replicated in addition for them to get access. As far as I understand from discussions with officials, it is not really on the table for discussion until an agreement with the EU has been established. Until we manage to get to that perspective, we are not looking at a replication of current arrangements and therefore it will be a 15% tariff, on average, for steel products going into Turkey. As I said before, we will not be putting any tariffs on steel coming in from Turkey, because we already have a zero-tariff position on steel. In a nutshell, that is the situation we find ourselves in. If you would like further information, we can provide it. [Interruption.]

None Portrait The Chair
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Apologies for the bell, which is out of our control, as the sitting is suspended in the main Chamber. We are nearly at the end of the time allotted for this session. I thank both the witnesses and all the Members for being here. If Mr Cranshaw cannot hear us, we will make sure that he is subsequently thanked for joining us.

15:44
Sitting suspended.
Examination of Witness
Rosa Crawford gave evidence.
15:46
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Q Hello, I am Graham Brady. I am chairing the sitting. I will not be asking you questions, but I will call others to do so. Would you mind giving a brief introduction of yourself, and perhaps a brief scene-setting statement about your views on the Bill?

Rosa Crawford: I am Rosa Crawford, a policy officer covering international trade at the Trades Union Congress. We are the national union centre of the UK, representing just over 5.5 million workers. I did not hear the second part of what you wanted me to introduce—was it some headline concerns on the Bill?

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Yes, if you just give an overview of your views about the Bill, that would be really helpful.

Rosa Crawford: The TUC believes it is crucial that UK trade policy supports a recovery from the pandemic based on good jobs, respect for workers’ rights, quality public services, support for the UN sustainable development goals and a just transition. Within that, we believe that the trade priority of the UK must be getting a good deal with the EU to protect rights and jobs, and we believe it is reckless that the UK Government have dismissed the offer by the EU of a deal that would provide zero tariffs and no-barrier access to the EU single market, with a guarantee that workers’ rights and social standards will not be lowered.

We are concerned that what we see in the Trade Bill is not a framework that would support the trade policy that workers need. Our main concerns focus on the fact that it provides no role for trade unions or Parliament in the negotiation of trade deals. It fails to provide a role for trade unions at the Trade Remedies Authority—to be able to have a say on the measures to prevent unfair trade and dumping. It provides no assurance that workers’ rights will be respected in trade deals, and it fails to ensure that UK procurement rules will promote respect for workers’ rights. It provides no assurance that public services will be protected in trade deals. I am happy to go through those concerns in more detail if that is helpful to the Committee.

None Portrait The Chair
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We have until 10 past 4 for questions, so perhaps we will see whether they are drawn out by questioning.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
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Q Thanks very much for your written submission as well, Rosa. Perhaps you could spell out where in the world there are examples of the things that you say are missing from the Trade Bill that we could learn from, and what you would like done as part of the Bill to rectify some of the omissions you spelled out.

Rosa Crawford: The TUC is in contact, and works very closely, with trade unions around the world, in advocacy for trade deals that promote good jobs and strong protection for workers’ rights and public services. We find that in other parts of the world, there is much more meaningful engagement between Government and trade unions, as well as with employers in trade negotiations. In our partners in Europe—in countries such as Austria and Sweden—there is routine consultation with the Government on the negotiation offers in trade negotiations.

Outside the EU, in countries such as the US, there is systematic and ongoing consultation by Government of the unions on the text that they propose. In the UK-US negotiations that have just been launched, we know that our US counterparts have seen a number of proposals that the US negotiators are putting to the UK Government. On the UK side, we have not seen any part of that negotiation so far. There is a much more meaningful engagement and a process whereby unions can comment on the text of the negotiations and have that input taken on board, which is very important, so there is a process whereby texts can improve to reflect what workers need in them.

As an example, the US unions were able to comment on the USMCA labour chapter and add significant improvements that prevented, for example, restrictions on freedom of association in Mexico. We would want that process in the UK trade negotiations and so we would want the Trade Bill to outline and affirm that trade unions would be engaged in the process of trade negotiations and would be consulted on the text, and that that would be the process going forward, not just for the continuity agreements but for all agreements. We would obviously also want that for the UK-EU negotiations, which we have not had that engagement on.

I would flag that there has been some movement in terms of Government consultation with members of the expert trade advisory groups that the unions sit on roughly half of. It has been indicated that we may get to see confidential material associated with trade negotiations on the condition of signing a non-disclosure agreement, but it is important to flag that the non-disclosure agreement is currently drafted so broadly that unions are concerned that it would limit what we are able to say in terms of our public advocacy. A balance needs to be struck between the legal restrictions placed on organisations and their ability to comment on the text of negotiations.

We welcome the fact that it looks like the Government are taking some steps forward in consultation, but it is currently not in the shape that we think is adequate and we have concerns about the restrictions they might place on us. We seek engagement with the Government on that, as the TUC and unions going forward. In the Bill specifically, a reference and an affirmation that unions will be consulted on the process of trade negotiations—as well as Parliament, which is crucial for democratic scrutiny—is key for us.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you for that. There are a number of agreements—about 20—that have already been signed that are part of the set of continuity agreements. They were signed without the Bill being passed. Do you have concerns along the lines that you have just set out about some of the things that have gone through because of a lack of engagement in those agreements?

Rosa Crawford: Yes. The TUC and unions were concerned about the fact that we were not consulted on any of those 19 continuity agreements before they were ratified and the fact that they were negotiated with countries where there are significant concerns about workers’ rights expressed to us by the unions in those countries.

To give two examples, the UK has now signed continuity agreements with South Korea and Colombia. In South Korea, for many years we have been expressing concern, with trade unions in South Korea, that freedom of association has been routinely overridden, with trade unionists thrown in prison for peaceful protest for workers’ rights, including two union leaders imprisoned last year who were only freed after a concerted global campaign. Trade union offices are raided and exploitative conditions are prevalent in large Korean multinationals such as Samsung. The UK signed an agreement with them that has no enforceable commitment on workers’ rights within it. Although there is a mention of International Labour Organisation standards, there is no enforcement mechanism for that, and therefore there can be no reprisal through the agreement and no penalty for abuse of workers’ rights.

We also have significant concerns about Colombia, which is one of the parties to the UK-Andean agreement. Colombia is listed by the International Trade Union Confederation as the world’s most dangerous country to be a trade unionist, with routine murders of trade union leaders, widespread repression of freedom of association and a real rolling back of rights, in contrast with the commitments made in the peace process by the Government. The fact that the agreement was signed, again without an effective enforcement mechanism on workers’ rights, is very concerning to us and indicates that these agreements will not be used to increase respect for workers’ rights, but will actually make it easier for companies to go to places where it is easier to exploit workers because human and trade union rights are not respected.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Were enforceable rights included in those two countries’ previous agreements with the EU?

Rosa Crawford: Trade unions have expressed concern that there was no enforcement mechanism in the EU agreements with South Korea or Colombia either. However, the EU is now engaged in a process of reviewing the enforcement mechanisms in its trade agreements—[Inaudible.]

None Portrait The Chair
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We have lost the line. We will suspend briefly while we try to resume it.

15:55
Sitting suspended.
15:58
On resuming—
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Rosa, we are delighted to have you back. Bill Esterson has one further question.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I wanted to ask you about the government procurement agreement and some concerns that you put in your written submission. Could you set out what your concerns are about the relationship between the GPA entities and the UK Government’s public contract regulations, which I think you say run out at the end of this year? Where does that leave us?

Rosa Crawford: The TUC has confirmed that the Bill does not give assurance that the UK’s public procurement rules will promote respect for workers’ rights or environmental standards in its accession to the World Trade Organisation’s government procurement agreement. The GPA as it stands has no requirement for members to promote social standards in their tendering process.

The UK’s Public Contract Regulations 2015, which you mentioned, transpose provisions in the EU procurement directive of 2014, which states that Governments must ensure that public contracts uphold international, environmental, social and labour standards. Importantly, those regulations also include provisions about a price-quality ratio, which is intended to ensure that public authorities select tenders on the basis of quality and positive social impact, rather than price alone. We are worried that once we leave any kind of relationship with the EU and we just have to rely on the UK’s public contract regulations, the UK Government may roll back on those commitments to promote social standards through the tendering process.

We know the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet have talked many times in the past about wanting to repeal EU-derived rights around working time, agency workers directives and other important protections for workers’ rights. We are worried that that may be the direction of travel with procurement as well, which is why we seek an addition to the Trade Bill that states that the GPA schedule that the UK files will make sure that it at least replicates article 18(2) of the EU’s 2014 public procurement provisions, which makes it clear that social standards must be part of the criteria used for settling public contracts, and that contractors must uphold those international labour and environmental standards. We would want the UK to go further than that and actually make it a compulsory criterion that the highest standards are used by contractors who receive public money, because that is the way to ensure that we get the best quality public services and provisions through our procurement arrangements.

We are concerned at the moment that we do not have a rigorous enough process of selecting tenders that always have the highest social standards, and that has had a terrible impact on the quality of services that we get, so it has had real public health implications. With the pandemic that we are facing now, we have had cases such as the Government choosing to import 40,000 protective gowns from Turkey on the basis that they were presumably lower priced than gowns they could get from a country that has higher standards. As we all know, all those gowns had to be impounded, as they did not reach NHS standards for safety. It is worth remarking that, in Turkey, there is extreme repression of workers’ rights.

By choosing the contractor with the lower price and the lower protection for workers’ rights, it leads to a much worse result for the public, and obviously there is a cost as a result. If there were concerted Government support for domestic manufacturing and domestic producers, and a preference was provided through the provisions in the GPA and through domestic legislation for providers who upheld workers’ rights and promoted the higher standards of workers’ rights, we would see more contracts going to UK manufacturers where there are strong trade union agreements, good protection for workers, decent pay and generally better conditions that promote a much more sustainable approach to business. Ultimately, there will be a better product for the public, which meets a public health need.

We think it is very important to send a signal with the Trade Bill that the Government’s accession to the GPA will be linked with making sure that the highest social standards are embedded in our public procurement criteria, and that that will be used as a key component for selecting tenders—not just price, but quality and the overall investment in sustainable development, good jobs and strong protection for workers’ rights.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have been trying to get a sense from the sector representatives of the impact of not having the continuity agreements on their sectors. Does the TUC have a sense of how many jobs are reliant on our getting these continuity agreements through the Trade Bill?

Rosa Crawford: As I outlined at the start, the crucial trade relationship that we believe the Government need to secure is that with the EU, which is our closest and most integrated trading partner and where the majority of our exports go. We are crucially reliant on—[Inaudible.] The trade agreements that the UK Government have secured through the continuity agreements do not represent anywhere near the importance to our trade. Although there will be some gains for certain sectors, it is not anywhere near as important for the EU. For us, the crucial thing about the continuity agreements is the lack of engagement with unions on them. They have been agreed on terms that we do not believe are advantageous to workers—for example, they do not have enforceable commitments around workers’ rights in them, which facilitates capital and UK businesses to go to countries such as Colombia, where the respect for worker’s rights is much lower.

For us, the crucial trading focus of the UK Government must be on securing a good deal with the EU. We do not believe that continuity agreements can substitute for those or, indeed, for agreements with the US or Japan, or Australia and New Zealand, which have launched in the last few weeks. We agree that there is a place for agreements—

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I hear what you are saying but my question was, do you have a figure for the number of jobs that the continuity agreements are supporting in this country at the moment that would be at risk without securing them?

Rosa Crawford: It would be hard to make that estimation, because drawing a direct line between how trade agreements facilitate access for our businesses and imports and exports and specific jobs is quite difficult. Unions would treat any figure with some scepticism. We could probably look into which sectors were linked with particular countries. As I say, however, what would come out again and again is the overriding importance of the EU in promoting and supporting jobs in the UK. The continuity agreements do not represent a significant proportion of the jobs that are supported in the UK, if you could draw out some analysis that was credible on that.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We have only another four minutes, so this is probably the last question.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Can I ask you to unpack and give some more examples of the workers’ rights that are at risk, Rosa? You have talked about freedom of association and you have mentioned pay, but could you give us some more examples of workers’ rights that would be at risk overseas and in this country, and of the impact on public services, which you think would be at risk by being included in the Bill rather than being exempt, as you are calling for?

Rosa Crawford: To focus on public services first, we are concerned that the Bill does not provide a guarantee of an exemption for all public services through a positive list, which is what we want to see in the Trade Bill. That is the only way to affirm that public services will be protected in trade agreements to make sure that there is no investor-state dispute settlement.

We are concerned that the trading partners that the UK Government have lined up as priorities for trade agreements once we leave the customs union with the EU are those that have explicitly made it clear that they would seek access to the UK’s public service market as a particular objective in trade negotiations. The US in particular, in its negotiating objectives, made it clear that regulations on drug prices were a barrier to market access which it would seek to overturn in trade agreements.

We know that in all recent US trade deals, such as the USMCA with Mexico and Canada, they have taken the negative list approach, which is where all services are included in the agreement unless specifically exempted. That means that if we had a similar deal with the US, part-privatised public services in the UK would be included in the agreement. If a future Government tried to renationalise them or regulate privatised parts of the public service, such as the provision of pharmaceuticals and medicines, they could be sued by the US Government. If ISDS is in the agreement, they could be sued through an ISDS tribunal. We are concerned that without an explicit commitment in the Trade Bill, as well as in all future trade negotiations, that public services are written out and there is no ISDS, our public services could really be on the line. That is what we need to see, rather than empty assurances from the Government that the NHS is protected.

In terms of workers’ rights, we have particular concerns about the US and the fact that they have ratified only two of the five fundamental ILO conventions. Forms of child labour are still legal in the US and there is legislation against freedom of association in a number of states where right to work laws exist.

It is clear that the US would see many of the employment protections we have in the UK, which we have derived from EU law, such as around working time, discrimination and paid holidays, as barriers to trade. They would say to the UK, “We are signing a deal with you only if you remove those barriers to our businesses being able to make more money, because we want workers to be able to work longer hours, have less holiday pay or be dismissed without any notice, or for agency workers to be fired on the day they are hired if we want to.” That kind of flexibility, we know, is the US approach.

Trade unions in the US have expressed grave concerns about that. The TUC and trade unions in the US have signed a joint statement making it clear that trade deals must protect workers’ rights and expressing concern about the breaches of workers’ rights in the US. With the Trade Bill not providing any affirmation that trade deals with existing countries, through the EU and the continuity group, and new trade agreements will have enforceable protection of workers’ rights, unless we see that kind of language making an affirmation that workers’ rights will be protected and effectively enforced through trade agreements, we know the realpolitik is that the likes of not only the US, but others such as Australia, New Zealand and others in the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, the CPTPP, are likely to pressure for lower workers’ rights. That will be their objective in a trade agreement; otherwise, the UK is a less attractive option for them.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Ms Crawford, thank you very much for your time and for assisting the Committee with your evidence. That brings us to the end of the time allotted for this session. We will suspend briefly while we get the next one set up.

00:01
Sitting suspended.
Examination of Witness
George Peretz, QC, gave evidence.
00:01
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will now hear oral evidence from George Peretz, QC, of Monckton Chambers. We have until half-past 4 for this session. Let me introduce myself, Mr Peretz. I am Graham Brady; I am chairing the Committee and will be calling Members to put their questions, but I will not be questioning you myself. If you would be so kind as to give a brief introduction of yourself and any opening observations about the Bill, we would be very grateful.

George Peretz: Thank you, Chairman. I am George Peretz and I am a QC at Monckton Chambers. I specialise in a number of areas of law, but, relevant for these purposes, customs law and EU law, including trade remedies.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you very much. Do you have any initial observations on the Bill, or would you like to move straight to questions?

George Peretz: It is a short Bill and the Members are familiar with it, so while there are a number of issues that I am sure people will want to discuss, I do not have any opening observations.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you very much for joining us, Mr Peretz. Could you just tell us your concerns about the scrutiny elements of the Bill as it stands?

George Peretz: Did you say the scrutiny provisions?

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The scrutiny provisions.

George Peretz: I am sorry, I am having slight difficulty hearing you.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The scrutiny elements of the Bill.

George Peretz: Yes, I thought I had heard it correctly. The first point to make is that the scope of the Bill, as set out in clause 1, is clearly confined to agreements with countries that had either a free trade agreement or an international package agreement with a free trade agreement with the EU before exit day. In that sense, it is limited, but none the less it is not quite right to portray it as simply a roll-over Bill, because the Bill does not prevent the Government from entering into an agreement, with a country that had such agreements with the EU—such as Japan or Canada—that is significantly different from the agreement that that country had with the EU before the United Kingdom left the EU. The absence of scrutiny provisions in the Bill needs to be seen in that light: that the agreement that the Government negotiate with Canada or Japan, for example, might look somewhat different—in fact, there is every reason to think that they probably will look somewhat different—from that which both countries entered into with the EU, most obviously because for those countries, an agreement with the United Kingdom is not the same as an agreement with the EU—it is a different market. Both countries will have different objectives and concerns in relation to the United Kingdom from those they had when negotiating with the much larger EU.

When one looks at the provisions of the Bill, which essentially do not provide much scrutiny at all, it is important to have that background in mind. There is the debate, with which Members are probably familiar, about the extent to which it is appropriate for there to be parliamentary scrutiny of free trade agreements. I can give you some thoughts on that, if you like. It is important with this Bill, however, to make that preliminary point.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Are there examples where a lack of parliamentary scrutiny has caused problems? Have agreements gone through with clauses in them that have caused difficulties?

George Peretz: In this country, or elsewhere?

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Either would be good.

George Peretz: I am just trying to think of an example. I suppose a case that ran into trouble, at least in part because it was accepted that there was not adequate scrutiny at an early stage, was negotiations between the EU and the United States on the transatlantic partnership agreement. Essentially—you would have to ask someone else for the precise detail—the EU side ran at what the European Parliament and member states were prepared to accept. That is one potential difficulty.

The issue with free trade agreements now, compared with what they looked like in the 19th century, when Richard Cobden could trot off to Paris to negotiate a free trade agreement with Napoleon III in a week or so, which involved a few tariff reductions, is that they are a lot more complicated than that now. Particularly once you move away from tariffs into other areas, agreements now require a lot of potentially important decisions on questions such as how matters of food safety are regulated, or the terms on which professional and other types of services are regulated, like auditing. Those are very sensitive indeed; they can profoundly affect both the public generally and particular interests.

So there is always the risk that, if an agreement has not been scrutinised properly at an early stage, a Government will go too far and then not be able to get the necessary legislation through Parliament. That is less of a risk inherent in our system, particularly in the present Parliament, given that the Government have a healthy majority, so it is not politically that likely. Also, the Government can quite often control agreements by secondary legislation anyway. But that can be a bit of a problem, and the TTIP negotiations turned out to be one.

Another issue with lack of scrutiny is much more difficult to find examples of, because it is not something from the textbook of finding examples. None the less, it is a fact, which people involved in trade negotiations fairly freely acknowledge, that it can be quite helpful to a Government to be able to say, “We are under scrutiny from our Parliament. We simply cannot make concession X, because we have discussed this with our own Parliament and know very well that it’s going to be very controversial; it’s going to be very difficult for us. We simply can’t do it.” That can be quite a useful negotiating tactic. As a lawyer, one is quite familiar with a situation where one is in negotiations with the other side and it is actually quite helpful sometimes to be able to say, “I’m afraid my client is very unreasonable; I simply can’t accept that.” That is quite a useful way of resisting certain types of pressure, and I think the same is true in trade negotiations, so it is another advantage of scrutiny.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q May I ask about the Trade Remedies Authority? I think you said that that was one of your areas. There are two things to ask, really. We have the trade remedies investigations directorate currently carrying out the functions of the Trade Remedies Authority, which were passed in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018. First, is it absolutely essential that the Trade Remedies Authority is created, given that it seems to be functioning already? Secondly, whether it is in its current format within the Department or is the Trade Remedies Authority, how important is it that the non-executive representatives have expertise as representatives of parts of the economy?

George Peretz: On the first question, plainly an unsatisfactory situation would have happened, had the United Kingdom left the EU with no deal last year. It is plainly an unsatisfactory situation if you have a whole set of powers in one Act of Parliament that are conferred on an authority that does not actually legally exist, because the legislation that sets it up has not at that stage been passed. That is what happened with the Trade Bill in the last Parliament. It is a bizarre situation, which is bound to create legal problems of one sort or another. There would have been challenges, no doubt, to the validity of the decisions taken by the Secretary of State, given that the mechanism by which he took them had no satisfactory statutory basis. The Department for International Trade told the world that the mechanism that it had adopted to get round that problem would have been sufficient to deal with it. We will never know whether it was right about that, but I think it would have created a set of legal issues that probably everyone could have done without if trying to—[Inaudible]effective trade remedies. It will certainly be better if, at the end of transition, when all this comes into play, there is a strong remedies authority in existence, doing the job that the 2018 Act gives it.

The structure of the 2018 Act did seem to me sensible. I wrote an article that laid out the—[Inaudible.] It is the largely technical task of looking at the potentially legal point—[Inaudible]a factual question about whether the various tests of dumping, subsidy domestically and so on have been met, through an independent authority that would be able to assess those reasonably objectively. It is charged with those functions. And there is the essentially political job of assessing the public interest, which is carried out by the politicians, who are directly accountable to you in the House of Commons. That seemed to me to be a sensible divide, and that is what the Government have done. That division of competence seemed to me to be broadly right.

A final point about the composition of the Trade Remedies Authority, going back to what I just said, is that the TRA’s job is in large part a technical one. It has to make a series of quite difficult legal and economic judgments that are essentially technical ones, but it does have a job of assessing the economic interests of the United Kingdom, which involve somewhat wider criteria. There is a case for the non-executive directors having to fit a number of those criteria; it is always desirable for there to be a diverse group of people on bodies such as this, because diversity brings strengths of its own. To focus on the particular task of this body, it is almost certainly helpful to have people who have experience of industry, because they will understand a lot of the issues and concerns that the TRA will have to grapple with. It would be helpful for some of the board to have backgrounds in law and in economics, because those are essential aspects of the TRA’s work, and it helps to have people right at the top who are familiar with such things.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Mr Peretz, thank you very much. I am keen to get one more question in in the time we have available, if possible.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Mr Peretz, could you compare the level of scrutiny that both the continuity free trade agreements and future free trade agreements will get in the UK, compared with the US and other Administrations?

George Peretz: I am only broadly familiar with the US position, but I know a bit more about EU scrutiny. It is certainly at the lower end. This question was gone into in some detail at the International Trade Committee’s evidence session on 10 June, which I had the chance to listen to. It was with Brigid Fowler, who some people know from the Hansard Society, and a couple of other people whose names I cannot remember off the top of my head—one person from the Institute for Government and one from Global Justice Now. They went into some detail about the comparative perspectives, and it is worth looking at that.

In broad terms, the UK system as currently set up is something of an outlier. I do not know anything about the Canadian system, but one of the experts who gave evidence to that Committee—I think it was the person from the Institute for Government—said that Canada’s system is comparable to the UK, in that it has a reduced level of scrutiny. However, it is hard to think of any other examples of leading western countries where the scrutiny level is as low as it is in the UK.

One always has to be conscious that this sort of system is very different from the United States’ system. The US has separation of powers between the legislature and the Government, so it is rarely very enlightening when applied to a UK context, because the setup is so different. The EU is of course a very different body, because it represents a whole set of different states and has a set of controls that is appropriate for that, but not so appropriate for a unitary state. However, if we are looking at more obvious comparators such as Australia or New Zealand, I do not claim expertise on either of them, but I think there is a considerably greater degree of parliamentary scrutiny in both countries. It is certainly true, if one draws a comparison to the EU, where the European Parliament has to approve the mandates given to the Commission and has to be informed of changes and developments in the negotiations throughout. It is—[Inaudible]—comparable to what we have in the UK.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Mr Peretz, thank you very much. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time available for this session. Many thanks for joining us, and for assisting the Committee with its deliberations. We will now suspend briefly while we prepare for the next session.

16:29
Sitting suspended.
Examination of Witness
Simon Walker CBE gave evidence.
16:31
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Q Our final witness is here in person, so we do not need to worry about the line going down and all the things we have dealt with this afternoon. We will now hear oral evidence from the chair designate of the Trade Remedies Authority until 4.50 pm. Please introduce yourself for the record and give any opening remarks you would like to make about the Bill or the Trade Remedies Authority.

Simon Walker: I am Simon Walker. I have been the chair of the Trade Remedies Authority for three months—a fairly recent appointment. From my limited exposure, given that I only made two visits to the office before the lockdown, I can report that the authority to be, which is still part of the Department for International Trade, is in good shape and raring to go.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you for joining us, Mr Walker. Belated congratulations on your appointment. Please tell us your views on the level of parliamentary scrutiny of the continuation international trade agreements that are covered by this Bill, and whether you think it is adequate.

Simon Walker: I am not sure that falls within the purview of the Trade Remedies Authority to be. It seems a broader question than that. The TRA’s decisions will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, because the final decision maker on our recommendations is the Secretary of State. If she rejects our recommendation, she must table her reasoning before Parliament.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Yes, sorry. I was asking whether you have a view, as the continuity agreements are a significant part of the Bill,—as is the TRA, which we will come on to. Do you have anything to say on that part of the Bill?

Simon Walker: I do not think I do, to be honest.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q That is fine. Turning to the Trade Remedies Authority, which currently operates as the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate, in evidence we have already heard, a comment was made about industry’s ability to properly fund its contributions to your investigations. Could you say something about ensuring that investigations can be conducted properly? I think there is only one underway at the moment, so that was the one the comment was made in relation to.

Simon Walker: There are two underway at the moment, which are both transition agreements. One is about welded steel and tubes, and the other is about rainbow trout. Those two transition arrangements are in process at the moment. I cannot pretend that it will always be cheap to lodge a claim with the TRA, because it will require quite a lot of legal and technical expertise, so I would not want to over-sell that. It is a very substantial meta-seeking recommendation from us on the base of anti-dumping and fair subsidies or the need for an economic safeguard. It is a major intervention in economic process that I think justifies significant resource going into it.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Could you give us a hypothetical scenario of something that could happen in the future, which, if we did not have a Trade Remedies Authority, “The consequences would be as follows”?

Simon Walker: I suppose the big worry about anti-dumping in general is that an overseas producer will seek to eliminate domestic competition in a predatory way and then force up prices as soon it has put its UK competitors out of business. That is at the heart of the issue, but there are infinitely more subtle variations of that, particularly if the exports come from countries where there are hidden or perhaps unfair subsidies of different sorts or where there is a disguise. The absolutely crucial thing is that there have to be UK producers of that product. If a product which happens to be massively available in another country is dumped cheaply in the United Kingdom and there are no UK producers, there is no domestic interest in that. That kind of unfairness aspect is fundamental to everything that we are going to be doing.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q In your role, do you see any particularly effective examples around the world of organisation that operate in the way that you hope the Trade Remedies Authority will?

Simon Walker: I think the Canadian, Australian and European Union’s trade remedies authorities operate competently and efficiently. The United States authorities have rather wider powers and a broader, much more variable political remit than this country’s will have, where our role is going to be to implement very strictly what is in the legislation. However, we are going to have to evolve something that is suited to the interests of this country absolutely specifically. That will be a challenge, because it has not been a function that the UK has had for some decades now, but I am confident that we can build up the expertise that will be required in the three basic strands. One is legal, one is analytical and economic analysis, and the third is investigatory, where claims are brought to us that require a detailed investigation. My hope is that over time we will build up the expertise to be recognised as an independent authority operating very much in the interests of this country, but that is an ambition and it will take a while to get there.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Can you talk us through what happens if you take a decision and find that dumping has taken place? You propose remedies, but they are not accepted by the producers in the other nation. They have the support of their Government and they challenge the decisions that you have persuaded the Secretary of State to take.

Simon Walker: It is important to stress that it is the Secretary of State who will make that ultimate decision. There are appeals mechanisms in this country, should we come to that finally. The appeals would need to be exhausted properly, but the remedies would be enforced in the same way as tariffs are enforced on imports to this country. There is not the ability of companies in other countries just to refuse to pay. That would have the same consequence as if they refused to pay normal tariffs or import duties on any goods.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Presumably there is scope for another nation to challenge Britain’s decision at the WTO?

Simon Walker: Certainly there are arguments that happen at WTO level all the time. One of the realities is that proceedings at the WTO normally take a very long time—I think that is particularly the case at the moment for various internal reasons—in the course of which considerable damage could be done in that case, unless the remedy were applied. That is why it is important that this country has the ability to act in that situation.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have two questions. The first is about the membership of the TRA. The Bill sets out that the maximum number will be nine. What do you think would be the optimal number, and what would the considerations for that be? We have heard today from farmers, industry representatives, small businesses and trade unions that they would all like to be members. How will you ensure that it will be fully representative of all stakeholders? That is my first question—maybe I will leave it there and come back for the second.

Simon Walker: I am happy with nine as a target. Three of them are internal, but we are going to want the other five non-executive directors all to be appropriately qualified in some way. I think we will get there. Nine to me feels the right sort of level.

It is important to stress that this is a board and it is fundamentally about governance. I would not want to mislead you about its decision-making capacity. Its role will be to set strategy, to hold the Executive to account, to test the strength of the arguments internally and to maintain the independence of the TRA from any organisation, including the Government. Those are the fundamental roles of the board, and we are going to be needing people who have that governance orientation in particular.

I am not supportive of the principle of representatives of particular organisations as such—to have representatives of industry or trade unions or the devolved Administrations —for a number of reasons. One is that I feel it would compromise the objectivity of the members of the board. The second is that it might reduce the capacity to appoint on merit. Thirdly, I think it would reduce the accountability if someone’s primary reporting back was to a sectoral interest group. To me, that would be a weakness.

Will there be people with trade union or industry experience, with close links with farming or with the devolved Administrations? I absolutely hope so. I very much hope that there will be people in those categories who apply for the board and are appointed, but they will be appointed as individuals who will work together as a board to hold to account the Executive.

I suppose the special skills I would cite that I am quite keen to see in non-executive board members are someone with a strong legal background, so that they can hold the legal team to account; someone with a financial and accountancy background, with real strengths in those areas; and if there is someone who has an investigatory background, perhaps, who could probe into material that is not always going to be easy to extract, that could be a useful facet. I hope they will be people who understand and relate to the devolved Administrations. I hope they will be diverse, because that has always been a goal of the Department and will be of the TRA once it is independent, but they will there as individuals working together on a board that is fundamentally about holding the Executive to account rather than making decisions itself.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q My second question is about the impact on developing countries. What is your assessment of the impact on developing countries of creating the TRA and the new negotiations it will have, and the impact on our poverty reduction commitment as a country? How will you be able to uphold that within the TRA?

Simon Walker: I am not sure that is really in our domain. I am very sympathetic to your point, but I am not sure how much that is in the remit of the TRA as such. Our professional teams will be trying to establish whether there is dumping, for example, from a particular country, and the sale of a product below its cost in that other country. If that is contrary to the economic interests of the UK, the TRA will try to assess that as objectively as possible. It is conceivable—I do not think it likely, but it is conceivable—that that might be from a developing country. There are shields for developing countries against an awful lot of tariffs—that is an element of exports that I hope will help them—and I certainly do not see developing countries being a big part of our focus, but I do not think that our remit is to look specifically at that.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Mr Walker, some of your opening comments were about just how expensive those sorts of interventions are, because of the amount of legal work involved. What sort of budget will you be working to? Do you think that the scale of the operation needs to be established in terms of the financial basis and the purpose and remit of the organisation? How is that funded and have you looked at relative nations, such as South Korea, to see the scale of their operations and how we compare?

Simon Walker: I have not looked at other nations in that sort of competitive way. I suppose that what I have looked at is, as an organisation of not quite 100 people that might grow to 140 or 150 people—that sort of size—what it will take to run an organisation like that in terms of personnel with professional qualifications. It is not that hard to arrive at a budget for that kind of organisation, because it is not as if we are going to be paying for the submissions that are made to us. We are obviously taxpayer funded and our proposed budget—we are not in existence until the legislation is passed—is laid down by the Department. I think it is pretty much what anyone would expect, within a relatively modest scale, for an arm’s length body. Does that answer your question?

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Probably enough for today. In the event that a particular country says, “We may have a trade agreement with you, but with immediate effect, this sector is now protected in the interests of national security,” what powers do we have?

Simon Walker: I do not think, I am afraid, that we have powers in that situation. Our mandate is very strict: it is about dumping, unfair subsidies and—this is very rarely used—safeguards in the event of unforeseen exports from another country that swamp the market. As I say, that is very rarely used. I take your point completely; that is a serious problem for the UK if that situation happens. I do not think it is one that the TRA can address.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Who should?

Simon Walker: The Department for International Trade and the Government as a whole. It is a matter for the Department and the Government as a whole rather than for us as an independent arm’s length body that will then be completely separate.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

That brings us to the end of our allotted time. I thank our witness very much. We are very grateful for your assistance.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Maria Caulfield.)

00:04
Adjourned till Thursday 18 June at half-past Eleven o’clock.
Written evidence reported to the House
TB01 Global Justice Now
TB02 Trade Justice Movement
TB03 International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) United Kingdom
TB04 Compassion in World Farming
TB05 Which?
TB06 Greener UK
TB07 Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance (MTRA)
TB08 Institute of Export & International Trade
TB09 CHEM Trust
TB10 British Medical Association (BMA)
TB11 TUC

Trade Bill (Third sitting)

Committee stage & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 18th June 2020

(3 years, 12 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Trade Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 18 June 2020 - (18 Jun 2020)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Sir Graham Brady, †Judith Cummins
† Anderson, Fleur (Putney) (Lab)
† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)
Clarke, Theo (Stafford) (Con)
† Courts, Robert (Witney) (Con)
† Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab)
Fletcher, Katherine (South Ribble) (Con)
Griffith, Andrew (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
† Hands, Greg (Minister for Trade Policy)
† Hendry, Drew (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
† Higginbotham, Antony (Burnley) (Con)
Hosie, Stewart (Dundee East) (SNP)
† Johnston, David (Wantage) (Con)
† Nichols, Charlotte (Warrington North) (Lab)
† Rowley, Lee (North East Derbyshire) (Con)
† Thomas, Gareth (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
Webb, Suzanne (Stourbridge) (Con)
† Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
Kenneth Fox, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Witnesses
David Lawrence, Senior Political Adviser, Trade Justice Movement
Tom West, UK Environment Lead, ClientEarth
Sam Lowe, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for European Reform (also a member of the Strategic Trade Advisory Group)
Nick Ashton Hart, Geneva Representative, Digital Trade Network
Public Bill Committee
Thursday 18 June 2020
(Morning)
[Judith Cummins in the Chair]
Trade Bill
00:00
The Committee deliberated in private.
11:31
Ordered,
That, the Order of the Committee of 16 June be varied so as to omit the final three rows in the table and substitute the following—

Thursday 18 June

Until no later than 12.10pm

Client Earth

The Trade Justice Movement

Thursday 18 June

Until no later than 12.35pm

Sam Lowe, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for European Reform and member of the Strategic Trade Advisory Group

Thursday 18 June

Until no later than 1.00pm

Nick Ashton-Hart, Geneva Representative, Digital Trade Network

—(Greg Hands.)
Examination of witnesses
David Lawrence and Tom West gave evidence.
11:32
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We now move on to oral evidence.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a declaration of interest. In my former role as head of campaigns for CAFOD—the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development —I was a co-founder of the Trade Justice Movement.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you. That will be noted on the record.

We will now hear oral evidence from ClientEarth and the Trade Justice Movement. Do we have them online?

David Lawrence: I am here; I can hear you.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Hello. I am Judith Cummins, the Member responsible for chairing proceedings. I will not be asking you any questions, but I will be calling Members and witnesses to speak.

David Lawrence: That sounds good.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Q91 Bear with us, David. Tom West is just taking his seat before I formally start the evidence session.

Welcome, and thank you very much for coming. Thank you, Tom—lovely to see you—and thank you, David. Could you start by introducing yourselves? Let us start with Tom.

Tom West: Thank you for inviting me. It is really good to be here, if slightly surreal; it is my first time out of the house for a while.

My name is Tom West. I work for an environmental law non-governmental organisation called ClientEarth. We are interested in the implications of the Bill and trade policy in general on the environment. The way we see it, there are a number of ways in which trade policy can affect the environment, directly and indirectly, in terms of the quality of goods we are trading, but also in terms of how our trade rules affect how able we are to meet our important environmental commitments.

At the moment, the UK has this great opportunity. It has this great chance to redefine and refresh how trade policy is designed. A lot of trade policy is quite old—years and decades old—and was not written in a time when the global environmental challenges, like climate change and biodiversity loss, were understood to the same extent. It is very well established now that there is a real urgent need to take action here. We think there is a chance for the UK to refresh the approach to reflect that and to move us forwards as global leaders in that area.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Q Thank you, Tom. Can I move now to David Lawrence? Please introduce yourself for the record, David, before we start taking questions. I remind Committee members that we have until 12.10 pm, and then we will need to move on.

David Lawrence: Good morning, everyone. My name is David Lawrence and I am the senior political advisor at the Trade Justice Movement. We represent 60 NGOs, faith groups and trade unions that have an interest in trade issues. Our group has done a lot of work on international development and the relationship between that and trade agreements, but obviously our focus recently has been on post-Brexit trade agreements and the UK’s new independent trade policy. We have previously given a lot of evidence on parliamentary scrutiny of trade agreements, which I would like to talk about today, if possible. I also very much share Tom’s concerns about upholding environmental standards and using trade in an environmentally sustainable way, so I will touch on that as well.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you. I now throw the floor open to questions.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Ms Cummins. Good morning, Tom and David. Tom, you just talked about the chance to redefine trade agreements. For starters, can you talk us through the government procurement agreement and the continuity trade agreements? What is your view of what the Bill does in both areas? Do you have any concerns, and is there anything you would like to add to the Bill in those areas?

Tom West: Sure. I will focus on the continuity trade agreements and what is being done there. It is worth saying at the outset that it is sensible to try to roll over and maintain where we are, as a starting point. It is also important to see that as a starting point as to where we are and where we want to go. The process gone through there demonstrates the need for, first, a better approach to scrutiny and oversight for how we conduct and design our trade policy. Secondly, there is the point about saying, “Let’s review and refresh.” With the continuity agreements in particular, there is a need to put in place mechanisms to review those in due course and to check up on them and say, “Are these delivering the economic things we need from the trade agreements but also, importantly, the environmental issues that we need to deliver on?” If we want to become a global leader in environmental issues, we need to think about what that means for all areas of policy. We cannot simply rely on directly environmental ways to deliver those. Let’s look at those and see: are these the sorts of trade agreements that are working from an environmental point of view? Are they encouraging the right sort of trade and the right sorts of goods and services? And are they allowing us to take the actions we will need to take to fight climate change and reverse biodiversity decline?

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Great. Thank you. David Lawrence, could you answer the same question? Perhaps you could share your thoughts on where this relates to the GPA as well as to the continuity agreements?

David Lawrence: Could very quickly remind me what the question was?

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What is your view of the Trade Bill as it is? Do you have concerns about it, and are there any additions you would like to see made to it?

David Lawrence: As I said earlier, parliamentary scrutiny is a big concern for us. When the Trade Bill was first introduced, which was a while ago now, it was billed as an open conversation on scrutiny and a new framework for how trade could be done, but in fact we see nothing new on parliamentary scrutiny, and so far the Government have not seemed to be very open to having that conversation or to listening to proposals for how scrutiny should operate. That is not just our concern; it is shared by a lot of other NGOs and businesses, and indeed by many MPs. The UK currently uses a pretty archaic form of treaty scrutiny that dates back to the first world war. It was designed to deal with secret defence treaties between European powers. Today’s trade agreements are a million miles from that. They cover a huge range of policy areas—from food standards and environmental regulations, to NHS prices and digital services. We think it is completely inappropriate to expect that MPs should have no say in how those deals are made.

It is also worth noting that that is an issue that many members of the general public are concerned about. If you think back to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP—the proposed EU-US trade deal—you will see that one of the reasons it collapsed was that people were not happy about the idea that these important talks were happening behind closed doors and that their own elected representatives did not have much of a say over them. In Westminster, MPs have less of a say over trade deals than MEPs in Brussels or, indeed, Members of Congress in Washington DC.

If I am honest, I think lots of people would be quite surprised and shocked to learn that their own elected MPs do not have a say over these trade agreements, the new deals we are doing with the EU, the US, Australia and Japan, or the new ones announced yesterday. It is not clear who people are meant to write to or who represents them and their interests when they are concerned about how these deals might affect their livelihoods, the food they buy or, as Tom mentioned, environmental standards and principles.

For us, scrutiny is an absolute priority. We also want to use trade to maintain high standards. We have concerns about the GPA and the way that public procurement works, but scrutiny is absolutely the priority. If we do not have that, there is no way Parliament can make sure that trade in the future meets with those high standards, and there is no democratic representation or transparency.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q David Lawrence, you mentioned the GPA briefly at the end. Can you say what those concerns are about public procurement?

David Lawrence: There is a scrutiny concern that is specific to public procurement as well—making sure that Parliament has a role, that there are democratic processes involved—and there is a standards concern to ensure that procurement can be used in a way that maintains standards. The Government have this levelling up agenda and the idea that post-Brexit Britain will support parts of the country that are not doing so well economically. Procurement is an opportunity to support those areas as well. As we have seen with covid, all sorts of big questions are raised around global supply chains. One of the immediate effects of covid was countries putting in place things like export controls and wanting to localise their supply chains. Procurement is one of the many tools that Governments can use to support local industries in that way and to maintain standards. The more that Parliament has a say over that process, the better.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. Just a follow-up question to both of you: what scrutiny system would you like to see in place?

David Lawrence: From our perspective, there are four elements to an ideal scrutiny procedure. First, before negotiations begin, we think there ought to be a full debate, with a vote on the negotiation objectives, and that ought to be written into law. At the moment, the Government can grant a debate, if they want to—and they have done so, at very short notice, as some of you will remember, I am sure, on the US objectives and the EU objectives—but we want a guaranteed debate and vote on the objectives. Secondly, during negotiations, there should be regular reports back to Parliament on the progress of those negotiations, and, ideally, publication of texts from each negotiation round. That is a practice that is done elsewhere: the EU has updates during negotiations. As I am sure all of you are aware, MPs are very much left in the dark. At the moment, US and EU negotiations are going on, but we rely on leaks, essentially, and reports from Brussels or from DC because there is no formal process for reporting back.

Thirdly, after negotiations there should be a debate and a vote on the final deal to approve it. Again, that is something that happens in the US Congress and in the European Parliament. We do not have that guaranteed. The only way we can get a debate and a vote on a trade agreement is if the Opposition force a debate on it during an Opposition day within a 21-day sitting period. As you all know, it is not guaranteed that there will be an Opposition day that falls in that period, and if there is, the Opposition may decide to use it for other things. The Government are proposing a lot of new trade agreements, so the current system is not reliable in terms of ensuring that debate and vote on the deal.

Fourthly, throughout this whole process we would like to see public consultation and independent impact assessment. There have been some half-hearted attempts at that. I sit on one of the expert trade advisory groups at the Department for International Trade, but there is not a well-established, formal process of consultation with actual trade agreements where businesses and NGOs are brought in to comment on and critique the trade agreements themselves. We have not seen that happen yet. Again, that is something that happens in other countries, but the UK is very much behind on this.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Before I get Tom West to answer, I have a question for David Lawrence. You talked about the importance of the publication of the negotiation text at the end of each round. Why is that so important? Indeed, why is the process you outlined so important? What sorts of things can go wrong if the level of scrutiny you described is not in place?

David Lawrence: It is about public trust. We saw in the TTIP negotiations a lot of distrust that ultimately led to the deal falling apart. If you wanted TTIP to happen—if you want these trade agreements to work—you need the public behind you. If there is not transparency, there will be conspiracy, leaks, theories about what is being discussed, accusations and a lot of uncertainty. That is why it is something that businesses and NGOs are united on: regardless of your view on whether the specific trade deals are good or bad for the economy or society, at least if you have transparency, you know what is being discussed and what is on the table. That is why we are pushing for it, and we have joined the British Chambers of Commerce, the International Chamber of Commerce and the CBI in pushing for that level of transparency. It has been a source of frustration, not just among civil society but also among businesses, that these important deals are supposedly on the way but we do not know what is being discussed at the moment.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. Tom West, would you like to add to what David Lawrence has said?

Tom West: We are supportive of the asks and processes David outlined. Greener UK, which is a coalition of environmental organisations, is also a signatory to the document David mentioned. I will just add some extra things around the side.

First, once a trade deal is in place and up and running, there is a need for ongoing scrutiny and involvement of civil society in making sure it is being implemented in the right way. That is crucial looking forward. Secondly, to give a bit more clarity as to the value of this, within the environmental sphere, the value—in fact, the necessity —of public participation is long recognised. The Aarhus convention 1998 enshrines in law that the public must be engaged in the design of policies related to the environment. It is true here as much as in other areas: by involving the people affected by the policies, you get better policies and better buy in.

There is another interesting point on the value of this. Last year the US negotiators said, “Look, we can’t refer to climate in our negotiations”. They were able to point to an Act of Congress and say, “Our hands are bound here. It’s impossible for us to do this”. In that way, a steer and an instruction from Parliament can strengthen our negotiating arm. As I have said, our vision is that the UK uses its blank sheet of paper on trade policy to align its trade policy with its global environmental ambition. Let us get that clear and written down so that our negotiators can point to it and say, “The conversation that we want to have—and, in fact, that we need to have—is around robust implementation of the Paris agreement, meeting our environmental goals”.

Lastly, David mentioned the need for public support: this matters to the public and they care. For me, this goes to the question—and annunciating—what are we going to get from these trade deals? What is the benefit and value to people? That is very much part of the question and review of what our trade policy is for. We have seen various estimates of what a US trade deal might get us, for example, from an economic point of view. The figures sometimes are relatively small. I have seen some say that the benefit in reduction in tariffs might amount to £8 per household per year. If that is the case, we need to understand what that will do for us and what other benefits we might be able to get from a trade policy that is more closely aligned with our environmental ambitions.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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Q Both of you have talked about the US and the deal we have with them, but this Bill is about the continuity of agreements that we already have through the EU. If I understand your criticisms correctly—you can correct me on this—you are saying, Tom, that the agreements we have had through the EU have not been good enough for you, and David, you are saying that agreements we might do in the future with Australia and the US and so on may not be good enough for you.

First, given that this is about continuing agreements that we already have, if we sought to change them, they would not really be continuity agreements anymore. Secondly, could you both talk about the counterfactual? If we did not have this Bill or the continuity agreements, what would be the consequences for this country and for those countries in the developing world with which we are seeking these agreements?

Tom West: I think it is right to say that the Bill itself is focused on those continuation agreements, but in some ways that is symptomatic of the wider problem I am talking about in terms of the lack of an approach that says, “Let’s review and revisit what our trade policy is for and how it should be designed,” with an eye, in particular from our perspective, on what that means in terms of delivering our climate and environmental goals. As a first step, yes, we need to take those sorts of measures and it is sensible to do so, but that is just a first step. That, in and of itself, cannot be the full range of what we should be seeking to achieve when it comes to our approach to trade. However, taking that more ambitious approach requires putting in place certain mechanisms and frameworks. We are talking about scrutiny processes as a key part of that and, in addition, frameworks that seek to guarantee that, through our trade deals, we will be protecting and supporting our delivery of environmental goals by making sure that we retain our right to regulate in environmental matters and doing that thoroughly; that we have non-regression in environmental standards and a meaningful and enforceable commitment to non-regression; and that our import standards match up to our environmental goals.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
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Q For absolute clarity, would you say that the EU falls down on those areas at the moment?

Tom West: I think that the EU’s approach to trade needs improvement, yes. This is not just about trying to replicate what the EU is doing in any of these areas. There is scope to do things better, to use this new power to conduct our trade policy in new ways where we can be a world leader and use our seat at the WTO to say, “There is a better way to do these things,” and that is a great opportunity.

David Lawrence: Can I just add to that? There are issues around the substance of the agreement, but you can improve the scrutiny processes without necessarily changing the substance of the roll-over agreements, while recognising the importance that those deals are rolled over the before the transition period ends. We work closely with Fairtrade and Traidcraft, which are two of our members. They have direct links to lots of the countries that have the EPA trade agreements—economic partnership agreements—with the EU that are being rolled over. There is a tension because a lot of countries want to change those EPAs—they see Brexit as an opportunity to renegotiate those deals—but there is also a desire for those to be done in time. Our hope is that those things are not completely incompatible and that you can have a new Bill, like the Trade Bill, that implements these agreements while also having a process of scrutiny and an opportunity for countries to reform EPAs where necessary.

In terms of the scope of the Bill, the Bill is about roll-over agreements. It is also about the creation of a Trade Remedies Authority and acceding to the government procurement agreement. Both of those latter two things are about future trade policy. They are not just backward looking—"We need to make sure those things are rolled over”. They are also about the UK’s new trade policy. That is why, for the previous version of the Bill, a number of amendments that were ruled in scope, both in the Commons and in the Lords, were about why the scrutiny process is not just for roll-over agreements but for new agreements as well. Indeed, some of those amendments were successful in the Lords. There is an element of, “If not us, then who, and if not now, then when?” about it as well, because the Government are not proposing any alternative trade legislation at the moment.

This is the only legislative opportunity, as far as we know, to put in place these scrutiny provisions. If the Government want to bring forward a trade framework Bill, or something else where there is an opportunity to have a proper conservation about scrutiny, then fine, but in the absence of that, this Bill should be used to put in place those scrutiny procedures, as with the previous Trade Bill.

Tom West: If I may add to that quickly, this lacuna that David and I are both describing, in terms of where is this bigger picture of trade policy, comes through in the conversations on the Agriculture Bill as well, where the issue of food import standards is, quite rightly, an important topic for debate. We are saying that what we do around our import standards is going to matter. It will matter for British farmers, but for our environmental impact and overseas footprint too.

Our view is that the Government clearly need to act to put in place those manifesto commitments to not compromise on environmental, animal welfare and food standards. We have seen statements in the media in the past around the Trade Bill being the right place to do this, but at the moment there is nothing in the Bill about it. The Agriculture Bill provides that opportunity as well. Clearly, there is a need to do something on import standards. That is true of food import standards, but it is true more widely as well. It is not just food that we are looking to import, and we need to make sure that that approach is compatible with our domestic environmental ambition and our global environmental ambition too.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston
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Q Could I just push you quickly on the second part of my question, which was on the consequences of not having these continuity agreements? I have heard all the things you would like to see in the Bill and all the future standards. I accept those points from you. What would happen if we did not achieve these continuity agreements that the Bill is designed for?

None Portrait The Chair
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Q Can I ask the witnesses to be concise? I have quite a few Members who have declared that they want to ask a question.

Tom West: We have not run the counterfactual of saying what would happen if these had not gone in there. Overall, the idea of continuing those agreements for now, and then looking at them in the round later on, is an approach that makes sense.

David Lawrence: Yes, I agree with that. The Bills both need to pass before the end of the transition period in order for the deals to be rolled over. We are in agreement on that. The question is whether you can do that, while also having better scrutiny and setting in stone better standards for the future.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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Q One of the areas of contention is whether the Bill should be wider in scope to include all free trade agreements. Obviously, the most high-profile free trade agreement in negotiation that is happening is the US deal. Can the two of you set out your concerns about the potential UK-US deal? Secondly, one of the other potential continuity deals, which has been controversial in the past, is with Canada. Can you set out your concerns on the potential UK-Canada deal?

Tom West: Starting with the US deal, we are concerned about the attempts and the approach from US negotiators, particularly around agriculture and food standards, to change the way the UK currently regulates and legislates in that area. It is clearly set out in the US negotiating objectives that they want to open up UK markets to US agricultural products. Our view is that in many areas those are produced to lower standards than is currently allowed here in the UK.

That also raises the indirect effect that trade deals can have on environmental standards, which is incredibly important. Trade rules can place restrictions on what it is that countries can do to meet their environmental goals. Our view is that achieving environmental goals is a good thing do—it is of value in and of itself—and that trade rules should work within that framework. Limiting what we can do, in order to achieve certain trade goals, is a restriction that we should not have in place.

To go back to the specifics of the US deal, another area of concern is chemicals. Currently in the UK, there are more than 1,300 chemicals for use in cosmetics that are not allowed; in the US, that is around 11. I think that demonstrates the stark difference between the regulatory approach in the US and the current approach we have here. While the UK now has the chance to do things differently—I am not saying we must stick to EU ways; that is not necessarily the approach we need to be taking—we do want to make sure that our standards get better and not worse.

David Lawrence: In terms of the scope of the Bill, I do not think what we want is for the Trade Bill to become a big debate about the US trade agreement, but we do want it to be a debate about scrutiny. If you have those scrutiny practices in place, when the US deal comes round, Parliament can actually debate that properly, rather than relying on the occasional parliamentary question or a Backbench Business debate, which is what currently happens, even though it is on the Government’s own terms for really important big trade agreements.

I completely agree with what Tom said about standards. The key thing here is that there are two dominant regulatory regimes in the world—the EU’s and the US’s. In many ways, Brexit will force the decision about which of those regimes we align with. Something that we have called for—I believe Tom and ClientEarth have called for it as well—is sequencing, whereby the EU deal comes first. We sort out our relationship with our largest trading partner, with whom we are already aligned on so many things and have been for so long, before we negotiate with the US, because the US really do want us to align with their regulatory regime, as Tom said.

You mentioned Canada. Canada and Japan have both asked not to renegotiate their existing terms, but essentially want to seek new free trade agreements with the UK. They have also both emphasised that they want the UK to sort out its relationship with the EU first, because historically the UK has been a springboard, particularly for Japanese investment in the European Union. For a lot of our trading partners, sorting out our relationship with the EU is an absolute priority. We have said let us do that first and then we can think about new trade agreements, such as one with the US.

There are a number of other concerns with the US deal. I will not go into huge detail on that unless you want me to, but we have concerns around public services provision, digital services and regulations in a number of areas, not just the environment, but also health regulations and food standards; we are also concerned about investor protection provisions, because we have seen that those have been used in really damaging ways in other US trade agreements, such as NAFTA. Those are some other concerns we have about the US deal. As I have said already, the real priority is scrutiny, because then we can have that debate properly in Parliament.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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Q I just want to ask about Canada.

Tom West: So, as David was talking about, there is this point about the two big regulatory spheres of influence. Canada is very much close to that US sphere and so, while there might be less of the direct issues, we see that stepping-stone effect.

One extra thing to add is that there are approaches that the US takes in its trade agreements and trade deals that are clearly better than what the EU is doing. Around enforcement, for example, some of the approaches that the US will often take include better enforcement mechanisms for environmental provisions in trade deals. Looking at the different approaches is certainly worth considering.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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Q I have a question for each of you. The question for David Lawrence is about scrutiny. You talked about the addition of scrutiny. Do you see any downside to adding in that additional level of scrutiny, particularly for developing countries, but also for British businesses and workers?

For Tom, a recent High Court decision about Heathrow airport ruled that we could not have Heathrow airport because it was counter to the Paris climate agreement. Are there risks if we do not put extra environmental standards in the Bill that future trade agreements will be brought into question, as that national policy statement was?

David Lawrence: In terms of downsides to scrutiny, we are very much calling for scrutiny and I do not think there are any really obvious downsides. As I said, it is an area where, perhaps unusually, we are very much aligned with the private sector. A lot of businesses are also calling for similar things.

In terms of developing countries, as you will know very well, Fleur, there are a lot of organisations in the UK representing the interests of developing countries and a lot of foreign aid organisations who would like to be able to see what is going on in trade negotiations and be able to represent those interests to MPs, but at the moment there simply are not those scrutiny proceedings in place. Obviously, the process of scrutiny takes time, so maybe it would slow things down a bit, but on the long-run game of improving public trust in what the Government are doing and public understanding of how trade deals work—where they are beneficial and where they are potentially harmful—it is absolutely worth having those additional scrutiny proceedings in place.

Tom West: The Heathrow decision is a really good example of how important it is to make sure that all of our policies are compatible with our environmental goals. While we might not get a direct read-across in this case here, what it does demonstrate is that we need to make sure that what we are doing in all areas is compatible with meeting Paris and our other environmental goals, too. We have got net zero and an Environment Bill that could provide a framework for some ambitious targets, and we need to make sure that that is compatible. Making sure that we have got that clear framework in legislation will necessarily help with that.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
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Q This is a question for you both. David, this will reflect on your serious concerns about the inability of MPs to have scrutiny or to amend the Trade Bill. In fact, I think you said the public would be shocked to learn that their MPs do not have a say over these trade deals. Following on from that as a natural progression, what concerns, if any, do you have over the ability of elected Members in the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved Assemblies to influence items that are normally devolved competencies within the Trade Bill?

David Lawrence: We have very similar concerns in relation to devolved nations. It is obviously tricky because you do not want to necessarily end up in a gridlock situation where an entire UK-wide trade agreement is blocked because one of the nations has a veto, but at the same time there will be parts of trade agreements that primarily or only affect the industries in the devolved areas and that cut across regulations that are normally devolved competencies. In those areas, we would like that to be the decision of the devolved authorities. Obviously, there is a role for consultation throughout that, as there has been through the Brexit process. I know it has not been handled perfectly in the Brexit process.

More generally, it is about applying the normal standards of democratic scrutiny that we would expect for other areas of domestic legislation to trade agreements, in recognition that trade agreements have a large and wide-reaching domestic effect. If the Government want to build a new railway like HS2, they have to put it in a Bill that has all of its Commons stages, layers of scrutiny and Committees like this one, and then it goes to the Lords and it comes back again. It goes back and forth, the media get involved and people write to their MPs about it. That is just for a railway and this is for a trade agreement that, if the Government are to be believed, is central to the UK’s post-Brexit industrial strategy, and MPs do not have anywhere near that level of say over it. So what we are calling for is similar to the way in which other regulations and big projects and proposals are treated with the level of democratic scrutiny that they receive.

Tom West: Yes, I agree. With environment, agriculture and fisheries all being devolved, this is obviously really important to our concerns, too. Clearly, there is a need for better mechanisms to be in place to make sure that the four Governments of the United Kingdom can work together to have the appropriate conversations about how we are going to work these things out. It is not straightforward exactly how it will work, but clearly it needs to be done so that the devolution settlements can be respected, and, as David says, so that the proper democratic input into trade agreements can be had.

None Portrait The Chair
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If there are no further questions from Members, I will thank the witnesses for their evidence and we will move on to the next panel. Thank you, David and Tom.

David Lawrence: Thank you.

Tom West: Thank you.

Examination of Witness

Sam Lowe gave evidence.

12:10
None Portrait The Chair
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Q We will now hear oral evidence from Sam Lowe from the Centre for European Reform. Sam, we are doing this remotely so you are on audio. I am Judith Cummins and I am the Chair of the session. I will not be putting questions to you but I will call Members forward to ask questions of you and inviting you to speak. For this session, we have until 12.35 pm. Can you introduce yourself, Sam? Thank you and welcome.

Sam Lowe: Thank you for inviting me. My name is Sam Lowe and I am a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, a think-tank. I am also a member of the Strategic Trade Advisory Group.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you, Sam. I call Bill Esterson.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson
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Q Good afternoon, Mr Lowe. Thank you for giving evidence. Can you talk us through your view of the Bill? Perhaps you could say a bit about the provisions on the GPA and the continuity trade agreements and how you see those provisions, whether you have concerns about them and whether there is anything you would like to see added to the Bill in either of those sections.

Sam Lowe: The first thing that I should say is that I think the Bill is necessary; there is a need for continuity when it comes to the UK’s trade relationships with third countries. Looking at the provisions for the government procurement agreement, I can see why there might be some concerns about the powers given to the Executive to alter things in future, but I also understand why the provisions are there, in that the government procurement agreement will evolve over time, new members will accede to it and there will be a need to update it.

Specifically on the continuity agreements, there are a few points that I would like to make. First, I am not sure that the scope is fully understood, in that it maybe covers more agreements than people think. As well as the ones that we all know about, for example Chile, Jordan and th