UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement Debate

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Department: Department for International Trade

UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement

Neil Parish Excerpts
Wednesday 25th November 2020

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for International Trade
Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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25 Nov 2020, 12:09 a.m.

I will come on to the issue of scrutiny later in my speech, but we committed in our Command Paper to produce a scoping assessment, which we did. We have produced our objectives and there are opportunities for them to be scrutinised through the International Trade Committee, and that has been happening during the process. There will be full opportunity for a debate afterwards. This puts us in a very strong position compared with comparative parliamentary democracies, and of course I welcome the opportunity to debate issues such as CPTPP during the accession process next year.

Today’s debate is truly historic, as trade policy is once again a matter for the United Kingdom and for this House. It is part of our new system of proper scrutiny, of which I am delighted to be a part. Parliament will rightly have the final say on the ratification of this deal. I am very grateful for this report from the International Trade Committee, which has made clear the desire for a debate. We will shortly be introducing an amendment to the Trade Bill, which will write the role of our vital Trade and Agriculture Commission into law, again giving independent advice to Parliament on trade and agriculture.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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25 Nov 2020, 4:45 p.m.

I, too, thank the Secretary of State for putting together the continuation of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and setting it up as an expert group for the next three years, because it will be very important, as we move forward to deal with Australia and others, that we really drill down on the way that agriculture is done and food is produced to keep our high animal welfare standards in this country.

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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25 Nov 2020, 4:45 p.m.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend welcomes the putting of the Trade and Agriculture Commission into statute, which will be done through the Trade Bill. We need to make sure that farmers are engaged, businesses are engaged and our whole country is engaged in these trade agreements because we are doing them to benefit the United Kingdom—to make sure that every part of this country is helped to thrive. We are lowering barriers to trade and creating—

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Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle
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The Minister shakes his head; I am happy to send him a constitutional 101 of all those countries, because the fact is that we have one of the least developed parliamentary scrutiny systems. Of course we do, because we have not done it for 40 years and other countries have developed since then, but we do need to develop, and it is no good the Minister shaking his head on these points.

The other thing I would say is that, although I welcome the Department giving the International Trade Committee a two-week head start on these documents, I have here in my hand just one volume of the documents, and three of the annexes never arrived in time and were only given to my office a few days before they were publicly released. It is all well and good, and I understand these are working documents, but that cannot be a continued pattern for how these things work; we need to be involved earlier, and we need to be involved throughout.

On the content of the deal, let’s be honest: many of the clauses we have heard celebrated today are non-binding or worse, or are being exaggerated. The workers’ rights sections are of course all totally non-binding; the climate change sections are non-binding and weak; the women and trade section—a new section—is all totally non-binding in the agreement. There is no section on consumer standards, and Which? says to me that it has not been involved much at all in these discussions. It believes there need to be whole sections on consumer standards, and the agreement fails to do that.

Also, in many areas there are standstill clauses that embed the current system we have in Britain and do not allow change. For example, there is a standstill clause on the Post Office; that means if a future Government wanted to change their mind on the disastrous privatisation by this Government of the Post Office that put money into their crony friends who bought the shares which then zoomed up—[Interruption.] It is true, and we would not be able to reverse that without renegotiating this deal. That is an inhibition of sovereignty, and that is a problem.

This deal is also reliant on the EU deal. If we do not get an EU deal, there are some clauses in this deal that will not be enacted fully; there is also a danger that the deal might be a green light for offshoring many jobs out of Britain, as there will be an EU-Japan deal and a UK-Japan deal. But if there is no UK-EU deal, businesses will place themselves in Japan because they will access both markets from there. If we do not get that EU deal, this deal could be an offshoring charter.

The TRQs are a scraps-on-the-table deal, under which the EU of course gets first dibs and if there are crumbs left—we hope there will be crumbs left, for a few more years anyway, until we sign the CPTPP—then we can get those crumbs. We cannot get the crumbs beforehand of course; and in terms of developing innovation, businesses cannot rely on them because they do not know what amount of crumbs will be left over. We have heard that Government analysis of the EU-Japan deal conducted when it was signed shows that the deal will have a worse economic outcome rather than a better one: there will be £1.7 billion less in exports with this deal than under the EU deal, and £1.6 billion less in GDP with this deal compared with how much the EU-Japan deal was benefiting us. Those are the Government’s figures, not my figures.

There are also some very dangerous elements on data protection, including voluntary agreements rather than binding agreements, not least in areas such as data protection and the NHS. That should greatly worry many people.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. I look forward to my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) being able to export marmalade under this new deal. May I assure him that my daughter-in-law is most definitely Japanese? I just want to make that absolutely clear. I agree with the points that have been made about the liberal democracy in Japan now and the need for us to co-operate and build on that across the world, especially in Asia.

I thank the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), the Chair of the International Trade Committee, for his great co-operation, for allowing me to guest on the Committee and for the work he has put into scrutinising this trade deal with Japan. I also thank the members of the Committee for allowing me to guest on that Committee and for putting up with me as we debated this. It has been a very interesting experience to monitor the deal through the Committee and to see how another Select Committee works. It may—dare I say it?—give me some ideas for my own Select Committee.

I thank the Secretary of State for her engagement on scrutiny and her commitment to amend the Agriculture Bill, to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission in legislation. I look forward to the Government publishing that amendment, which they have yet to do. The independent Trade and Agriculture Commission will be important in helping MPs to scrutinise new trade deals, whether with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US or Brazil. We need to ensure that Parliament has a proper opportunity to debate and scrutinise trade deals, and I hope that the Trade Bill will strengthen that process when it comes back from the other place. I welcome the deal that we have agreed with Japan.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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Does the hon. Member share my concern that animal welfare standards are generally lower in Japan and that this agreement does not replicate the FTAs that have better, stronger animal welfare provisions? Does he agree that we could and ought to do more to protect ourselves against lower standards of imports from Japan?

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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When the hon. Lady served on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, she always worked hard on animal welfare. I think that we can get improvements, which is why it is essential to have the Trade and Agriculture Commission up and running to scrutinise these deals as they are put in place. The issue is that once a trade deal gets to the Floor of the House, we can scrutinise it, but it is very difficult to change it, so work has to be put in through the negotiations to get that trade deal right. There can be improvements on animal welfare.

It is essential that thae continuity agreement preserves the tariff reductions we enjoy as part of the EU trade deal. We must ensure that we can increase our access to quotas from Japan, because we can export more of some agricultural products to Japan than we have in the present agreement. This is welcome news for agrifood businesses that export to Japan, but it could have been a bit more ambitious on exporting our excellent British food into Japan. Japan is the largest net importer of agrifood products worldwide, as it lacks enough agricultural land to feed its population, importing about 60% of its food, so there is a huge advantage in trading with Japan.

In future, we will have to boost exports of even more of our great food. It is in our interests to use the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and the levy payers who pay every time they process lamb, beef and milk and get those people out to do those trade deals. We need to build on the great links that our Government have with the industry, and I particularly welcome the engagement with businesses about what they need through the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

To conclude, I welcome the agreement. I thank the International Trade Committee again for its scrutiny of the deal. I hope to see a lot more of the Secretary of State and her team on the Floor of the House and in Committee telling the House what brilliant deals we have signed and allowing us enough time to scrutinise them. The Government have set an excellent precedent by coming to the House and having a proper debate on this deal, and I look forward to having a debate on all future trade deals.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
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I rise in support of the trade agreement that has been reached with Japan, and I congratulate the Minister and the Secretary of State on their efforts to secure this very important deal. In terms of scrutiny of the process, I have been grateful that the Minister’s door has always been open to my questions, particularly about digital and data policy relating to trade agreements, whether this agreement or the other agreements currently being negotiated. I note that he offered last week to write to me with a detailed note setting out the differences in data and digital policy between this trade agreement with Japan versus the EU-Japan trade agreement.

The Government have been clear that this is an enhanced deal. I welcome anything that increases the scope for digital trade in this country, because it is incredibly important to our future growth. These are industries of the future, and the UK is a world-leading nation, but I raise an issue that is important for this agreement and for other agreements as well, which is the scrutiny of data and digital policy as it is concluded in trade agreements. It would be worth while to have an opportunity to scrutinise the reports from the Information Commissioner on digital agreements, because the commissioner is responsible for the enforcement of our data protection rights.

I note as well that the Government say that there are high levels of data protection in this agreement, but this agreement means that UK data can be processed by data processors in Japan, rather than that having to be done here. We know that Japan has a data agreement with the US, which allows the free flow of data between Japan and the US, so people will naturally ask, “Does that mean that UK citizens’ data could end up, via Japan, being processed in the US, outside UK data protection laws?” I know that is not what the Government or the Minister want, and I am sure there are safeguards to ensure that cannot happen, but nevertheless those are natural concerns that people raise. If a company was processing UK data in America, having routed that through Japan in breach of the agreement and our laws, it could be very difficult for the Information Commissioner’s Office to take enforcement action. It is perfectly right that people ask those questions, and I certainly think the ICO could have a role in allaying such fears and concerns.

This is important in the context of other trade agreements because we know that the big technology companies, particularly through their trade bodies, are actively lobbying for trade agreements to be used to lock in more liberalisation of data policy and of how data is handled and processed around the world. In America, they have lobbied successfully for the US-Japan trade agreement and the US-Canada-Mexico trade agreements to abide by the section 230 provisions in US law, which give immunity for tech companies in how they process and handle content. That is contrary to the rules and regulations we have here.

I have discussed this with the Minister many times, and it is not something I would want to see in a UK-US trade agreement. If the House said, “We would rather have data protection laws that are more like America’s than the EU’s,” that is a matter for the House to decide and for legislation to be passed to do that. It is not the route I would want to go down, but it should not be the role of trade agreements to try to lock in the changes.

The Minister will know that there has been considerable criticism in the US Congress of the Trump Administration using trade agreements in that way to try to set domestic policy in this area. That should rightly be the role of Parliaments, not trade agreements. I have expressed to the Minister my concern that if the current US proposals for a US-UK trade agreement were accepted, we would also have to take this measure on board, which would massively restrict our ability to legislate on things such as online harms. It would potentially undermine such things as the age-appropriate design code to protect children online. I know that is not what the Minister wants. The Government have resisted those efforts, and I hope that President-elect Biden’s Administration will review the terms offered by the American Government in that trade agreement and change them.

I raise this today because the Government’s intention is clear to ensure that we keep high levels of data protection. Any changes to our data protection laws should be something that Parliament votes and legislates on, but there are forces at work who want to use trade agreements to try to change the global norms, and we do not really have a global system for monitoring and policing the movement and use of citizens’ data. Data is the new oil of the economy, so it is important that people know what their rights are and how they can be enforced around the world and that trade agreements do not affect that.

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Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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My hon. Friend is quite right. He is our trade envoy to the ASEAN region and to a couple of countries there. I was addressing our DIT internal teams in the Asia-Pacific region just this week on the incredible opportunities that this country has there.

The deal was negotiated almost entirely virtually. It deepens the economic partnership between two like-minded island democracies. It reflects our shared values and our shared belief in the fundamental principles of free and fair trade and the importance of playing by the rules. That point was made on both sides of the House, including by the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt). This British-shaped deal strengthens ties between the world’s third largest and fifth largest economies and will help to drive economic growth in the long run. The Government are committed to levelling up the UK, delivering opportunity and unleashing the potential of every part of our United Kingdom.

We heard in this debate from two former Trade Ministers: my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), with his excellent and deep understanding of world trade, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) on the importance of the International Trade Committee in scrutinising this agreement. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who again showed that we have proved the naysayers wrong, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) about thriving Wales-Japan trade, particularly in the area of lamb.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey, a former Foreign Secretary, described this as a personal triumph for the Trade Secretary; I entirely agree. I can attest at first hand to how much personal effort she has put into getting the team to move forward, including in the early hours of the day. That has been incredibly helpful. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, welcomed the fact that the Trade and Agriculture Commission was to be put on a statutory basis. He also pointed out that Japan is the world’s largest importer of agrifood.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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25 Nov 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I am afraid I have too many hon. Members to respond to.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) has a keen interest, of course, in all matters relating to data. I can tell him that I shall be meeting the Information Commissioner’s Office in the next few weeks. I say to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) that he was correct when he made the point that the UK-Japan deal would not change the current position in relation to onward transfer of UK personal data from Japan.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) made some very important points. He made an important point on services—that it is very important that there is mutual recognition of professional qualifications in deals as we go forward. In recent weeks I have met the architects, the Law Society, the Bar Council and so on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) said that Japan’s role as chair of the CPTPP this year was really important for our agenda in 2021. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) said that the deal opened up new opportunities for farmers in her constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) praised the DIT’s outreach to MPs. That has been a priority of the Secretary of State, me and the entire team.

Then we had the entire Conservative team from Stoke, lined up geographically in order, South, Central and North—the sort of line-up that Alan Hudson would have been proud of in the 1970s, in his Stoke City pomp—making the point again and again how important trade is going to be for the future of that great city. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) of her business and personal connections with Japan, and her commitment to quality. It has been a great effort. I know how supportive the whole Stoke team has been of the DIT’s efforts.

The hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) said that the SNP is “pro-trade.” He may not know, but the SNP of course abstained on the original EU-Canada deal. But he is almost unique. There are only two Members in this House who have actually voted against the original EU-Canada deal, and he is one of them, from his time as an MEP. So with all of his praise for that original deal, he is one of only two Members in this Parliament who has actually voted against it. He has fallen into the trap that the SNP fell into last week of praising EU agreements that they actually voted against in the first place.

The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) spoke about the importance of COP 26 and climate, and slightly ridiculed the idea of our joining the CPTPP. He claimed that Britain owned the Pitcairn Islands. Well, it is not the Pitcairn Islands but the 11 members of the CPTPP that have welcomed the UK’s interest in applying to join—countries such as Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and so on.

The right hon. Member for Warley raised an important point about the unity of liberal democracy, which I have mentioned.

I assure the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) that no harm will be done to the NHS or NHS data by this agreement, but it does help tech firms and data firms setting up operations in Japan that they do not have to follow local data localisation rules. That is incredibly important for our tech sector.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) spoke about parliamentary scrutiny. He said that Which? had not been involved. I was the guest speaker at Which?’s national trade conversation just last week. He does serve on the Select Committee, but he is not always fully up-to-date with his information.

I have already answered the point that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland raised about data transfer.

The hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) summed up for the official Opposition. He is like the SNP: he never actually supported any of these trade deals in the first place. He did not support EU-Japan. He voted against EU-Canada. He voted against EU- Singapore. So for him to come along today and say that the new UK rolled-over version is somehow inferior to the trade deal that he might have supported in the past—well, a quick check of Hansard revealed that he never supported any of those deals; in fact he actively opposed most of them.

It has often been said that an independent UK would not be able to strike major trade deals, or that at the very least such deals would be bad and take years to conclude. But even in the midst of this terrible pandemic we have proven the naysayers wrong, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes also nobly said. We have secured provisions as good as the EU’s on all our objectives and gone beyond them in some key areas, securing vital priorities for the UK.

This deal benefits all parts of our country while protecting our red lines on areas such as the NHS and food standards. It is a sign and a signal that we are back as an independent trading nation, as a major force of global trade, and as a country that stands up for free enterprise and liberal values across the world. Using our newfound independence as an optimistic, outward-looking trading nation, once again we are embracing the golden opportunities ahead for global trade, visibly shown in this UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.