Draft EU-Canada Trade Agreement Order

Part of Food Advertising (Protection of Children from Targeting) – in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 26th June 2018.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East 2:17 pm, 26th June 2018

We on the International Trade Committee took time to hear evidence on the Canada trade deal. In his near-40-minute speech from the Front Bench today, my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner covered a number of important points about parliamentary scrutiny, but I am not entirely clear what those on my Front Bench are going to do if this issue comes to a vote. I shall therefore make my own mind up, based on the debate that we are having. From what I can see, CETA is quite a decent trade deal. As my right hon. Friend John Spellar said, Canada is a liberal, open economy with which we have a great affinity.

A number of improvements have been made to the agreement along the way as part of the negotiations. The old ISDS court system has gone, and there is a new, more transparent and open arrangement for settling disputes. By the way, trade deals tend to need some sort of mechanism for settling disputes. Most importantly, CETA is already provisionally in force. So, if for some reason the House were to kick it out today, and possibly prevent the European Union as a whole from ratifying the treaty, we would go from a position in which we currently enjoy zero tariffs to one in which tariffs would again be imposed on a whole basket of goods. For example, the UK currently enjoys zero tariffs on clothing and textiles, but they would have to go back up to 16%. The tariffs on vehicles and machinery would go back up to 9.5%, those on medical devices would go back up to 8% and those on chemicals would go back up to 6.5%. We have to look responsibly at the options before the House today.

At this time in particular, when we are talking about Brexit and when our access to our largest markets across the European Union, 40% of our trade, is in a somewhat precarious situation—I do not want to open that particular debate up more widely just now—to start putting question marks over the non-EU trade deals, 30% of our trade, does not seem very sensible. As we are potentially at the brink of a worldwide trade war, with Trump and the Americans’ ridiculous approach of irrational tariffs on a whole series of goods, this is not the time for us to step away from free and fair trade arrangements.

All I would say to my colleagues on the Front Bench is to be very careful about slipping into an oppositionalist rut on these issues. If we want to be a Government in waiting, we sometimes have to weigh things in the balance and take a responsible view about the prosperity of our economy, because from that prosperity come the revenues we need for our public services, our health service, our schools, and all those local council services. There is danger in flirting with anti-trade populism. Yes, we must harness globalisation, but we must not resist it entirely. There is a sensible mainstream, dare I say it, centre-ground, approach to being rational and sensible about trade deals. Yes, make the points about parliamentary scrutiny, but at the end of the day we have to take the long view, which is that free and fair trade benefits us all.