New Trade Agreements: Human Rights

International Trade – in the House of Commons on 7th February 2019.

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Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

What assessment he has made of the potential merits of including human rights protections in new trade agreements.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

The United Kingdom has a strong and proud history of promoting our values globally, including on human rights. We are considering all options in the design of future trade agreements, including human rights provisions. We recognise the need to maximise the benefits of trade while being true to our values.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

I am one of the 38 Co-operative MPs in this place. We are the third largest party in Parliament and we have a long-standing campaign against modern slavery. There is a particular need to emphasise any safeguards against modern slavery in our supply chains, which is an insidious aspect of international trade. Will the Secretary of State take cognisance of that urgency in ensuring that the scourge of modern slavery is outlawed in our legislation and trade agreements?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me that a party within a party is in fact normal practice in the Labour party—

Behind you!

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

The hon. Gentleman raises an extraordinarily important point. Modern slavery is far more widespread than is recognised. It is a pernicious, wicked practice and it is something that this Government have taken the lead on internationally. It will certainly be reflected in all the values of this Government, including our trade policy.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar

Scrutiny of our trade deals is vital as we leave the EU. Given the Government’s commitment to an inclusive and fair trade policy, will the Secretary of State seek a debate in this place to talk about the scrutiny of our trade deals?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

On the consultations that we have already had in public on Australia, New Zealand, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership —the CPTPP—and the United States, the Government have a commitment to hold such a debate in the House of Commons. Assuming the agreement of the business managers, I hope that we will have that debate in the House within the next two weeks.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

What assessment has the Secretary of State’s Department made of the role of British businesses in tackling abuse and exploitation in global supply chains?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

As I said in answer to a previous question, we take such abuses very seriously. This country operates its international trade policy with one of the highest levels of ethics of any country globally, and the Government are always keen to ensure that those ethics are upheld in every way.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. It is open to Mark Menzies to seek to shoehorn Question 9 into the question with which we are dealing now. It is not obligatory, but his opportunity exists if he wants it, and it looks as though he does.

Photo of Mark Menzies Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde

What progress he has made on the development of proposals for the scrutiny of future free trade agreements.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

In terms of the continuity of our existing agreements, the best way to ensure full continuity is to have a deal. All those who talk about the pitfalls of no deal would do well to remember that in voting against the deal they make those pitfalls all the more likely. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that it is not only trade agreements that are important but trade itself, including trade promotion for our exports, and I congratulate him on the work he has done to promote this country’s interests abroad.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The persecution and mass incarceration of the Uyghur community in the Xinjiang province of China is facilitated by companies such as Hikvision, which manufactures and supplies much of the surveillance equipment that is used there. Hikvision has an expanding presence in this country. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the trade deals that we might have post Brexit will not encourage trade of that nature?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

As I have said, any future trade agreements that we have beyond the European Union will be subject to public consultation, to debate in this House and, I hope, to rigorous processes that I may set out in due course about how we can increase scrutiny of those agreements. Members across the House will place different types of emphasis on different constituencies and different sectors of the economy, but I think that the whole House will share those concerns about ethics. I hope that the design of the scrutiny of those trade agreements that I will be able to bring to the House in greater detail soon will give the right hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he seeks.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

Is not championing global free trade the best way of promoting human rights?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

We all need to remember that the great success of free trade over the last generation has been the truly historic achievement of taking 1 billion people out of abject poverty. That has been the benefit of free trade, and in this era of protectionism we should realise that economic nationalism is a way of rolling back what has been an enormously beneficial human trend.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Two weeks ago, the Joint Committee on Human Rights heard how the Canadian Government had to make a substantial pay-out and issue a public apology to a chemicals company after they were sued for taking a public policy decision to ban a chemical additive to protect human health. The Committee was told that investor-state dispute settlement provisions in trade and investment agreements can

“impact very negatively on human rights.”

Does the Secretary of State recognise that danger? If so, will he rule out such ISDS clauses in future trade agreements? If not, what counter-evidence will he present to the Joint Committee on Human Rights?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I have made clear our concern about human rights, but the idea of banning such agreements is nonsensical. This country has £1.3 trillion of stock overseas. Our investors are important in providing development in a lot of these countries, yet they are not given sufficient legal protections, which they would normally get under systems such as the UK’s. That is why those provisions are put in—to protect our investors overseas.