Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (Accession)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:52 pm on 17th June 2020.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 1:52 pm, 17th June 2020

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement and for always keeping the House up to date on the progress of her trade negotiations. On my count, in those six weeks, the Secretary of State has formally launched new trade negotiations with four different countries—the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand—on top of the 16 negotiations that she is already leading to roll over our EU third country agreements, all of which, according to her own timetable, she wants signed and sealed within the next six months. In addition, we now have today’s statement committing the Government to begin negotiations on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, CPTPP—I am going to pronounce it “C-tip” for short.

As the Secretary of State said, CPTPP currently comprises 11 members, accounting for 13% of global GDP, making it the third-largest free trade area in the world. So in theory, the UK becoming a member sounds like it deserves the fanfare that the Secretary of State has given it today. However, let us now look at those 11 countries. With seven of them, we already have free trade agreements, courtesy of our membership of the EU—that is Japan, Canada, Singapore, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Vietnam. With two of those—Chile and Peru—roll-over deals are in place to continue free trade beyond December. With the other five, bilateral negotiations are still ongoing to get roll-over deals agreed. That is seven out of the 11 taken care of.

Then, just this morning, the Secretary of State formally launched free trade negotiations with another two CPTPP members, Australia and New Zealand. Just to be clear, according to the Secretary of State’s plans, by the time we join CPTPP, we should already have bilateral free trade deals in place with nine of its 11 Members, accounting for 95% of the UK’s current trade with the CPTPP area. In fact, the only new free trade agreements that we stand to gain from membership of CPTPP are with the kingdoms of Malaysia and Brunei, which, between them, accounted for just 0.37% of the UK’s total world trade last year.

I ask the Secretary of State: what are the benefits of joining CPTPP for UK trade, growth and jobs, over and above the benefits that she has already forecast from trade deals with Japan, Australia and the seven other CPTPP countries with whom bilateral negotiations are already complete or still in train? Could she then tell us how these potential benefits stack up against some of the potential risks of CPTPP membership? First, will the UK be subject to the provisions in CPTPP for investor state dispute settlement, with all the risks that that poses to our ability to protect public services, consumers and the environment from corporate profiteers? Secondly, will membership of CPTPP demand the sharing of our citizens’ data, including health records? If so, how will that data be protected? If other CPTPP members are not compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation, how will that affect the ability of UK service companies to access EU citizens’ data?

Thirdly, will CPTPP membership oblige us to accept a “list it or lose it” approach to private competition in the public sector? If so, can the Government guarantee a blanket exception for our NHS and other essential public services? Fourthly, will we be obliged to accept the regulatory standards on animal welfare and food production established under CPTPP and, if so, are they compatible with other existing standards?

Finally, will the Government negotiate the terms of our CPTPP membership to benefit key British trade sectors, or will we have to accept the existing terms of an agreement shaped in the interests of others? I raise those questions not from confirmed opposition to CPTPP but simply because we need to know whether the risks are worth taking if the only distinct benefit is the prospect of free trade with Malaysia and Brunei. That debate has not yet been won, and I urge the Secretary of State to reopen it for consultation with industry, unions and other stakeholders who did not have the time to study the proposals properly during the busy Brexit negotiations in autumn 2018.

In closing, we cannot divorce this debate from that around the still busy Brexit negotiations. The businesses I speak to around the country simply cannot understand why the Government are spending so much time and effort trying to negotiate international trade deals of relatively low value when they have yet to secure our continued trade with Europe. I am all for expanding the 0.3% of global trade that we share with Malaysia and Brunei, which is all the statement ultimately amounts to, but as the 47% of our trade that depends on Europe is hanging in the balance that is where the Government’s priorities should lie.