This month I have received a large number of emails from constituents on the Trade Bill. This Bill has been brought back a number of times because of the General Election.
The purpose of the Bill, we were told, was to allow the UK to manage its trade policy independent of the EU. This includes the implementation on a bilateral basis of trade agreements with third countries that we currently enjoy as a member of the EU.
Leaving the EU means competence for entering into trade agreements and international trade conventions returns to the UK, and I have no issue in principle with a Bill that provides the legal mechanisms to enable that transition. I believe in a trade policy that is transparent and subject to full and meaningful parliamentary scrutiny, and so would have welcomed a Trade Bill that – in particular – provides for proper Parliamentary oversight of the specific trade deals at issue in the Bill, and for the negotiation, implementation or ratification of any future trade deals
With the government actively engaged in negotiations over those future trade deals with the US, Japan and other major economies, I would also have welcomed a Bill that would guarantee in law that these future agreements will not:
- Undermine the UK’s current food and farming standards by allowing the import of agricultural and food products which fall below those standards;
- Threaten the future of our NHS and other public services by forcing it open to competition from private service-providers in other countries; and
- Row back on the protections for human rights, workers’ rights and the environment that have become mandatory in trade deals struck on the UK’s behalf by the EU.
Unfortunately, the Government’s Bill fails all of the above tests, and by failing to address the ‘scrutiny deficit’ that will arise once the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade and the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee become defunct, it leaves us with no means of correcting the failings of future trade deals entered into by the government.
Similarly, the new Trade Remedies Authority lacks the stakeholder engagement, independence, or parliamentary oversight and accountability to ensure it will operate transparently and fairly when investigating and challenging practices that distort competition against UK producers, in breach of international trade rules.
This Trade Bill therefore sets the bar far too low when it comes to the level of transparency and parliamentary accountability that this and future legislation related to trade should meet.
During Report State Labour was seeking to move two amendments in our name, as follows:
New Clause 11
This new clause would have set a requirement for imported agricultural goods to meet animal health and welfare, environmental, plant health, food safety and other standards which are at least as high as those which apply to UK produced agricultural goods.
New Clause 17
This amendment would have aimed to protect the NHS and publicly funded health and care services in other parts of the UK from any form of control from outside the UK.
Labour also supported New Clause 4: ‘Parliamentary approval of trade agreements’:
A Tory rebel amendment, which has received significant cross-party back bench support, it would have ensured proper parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, both prior to and during treaty negotiation; it would have obliged the government to consult with devolved authorities on the content of draft negotiating objectives and the text of proposed agreements; it would have required the government to produce a sustainability impact assessment prior to any agreement of the impact on food safety, health, the environment and animal welfare; and would have required them to lay before both Houses a report assessing the compliance of all proposed agreements with primary or subordinate legislation in those areas.
A full list of amendments can be found here https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-01/0120/amend/trade_day_rep_0717.pdf
During the votes all amendments were voted down by the government. It is clear the government has made no serious attempt to address, let alone resolve, the issues of concern raised by the Commons and the Lords during previous discussion of the Bill.