Free Trade Agreements: Environmental Protection Standards

International Trade – in the House of Commons on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

What discussions she has had with UK trade partners on maintaining environmental protection standards in future free trade agreements.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

What discussions she has had with UK trade partners on maintaining environmental protection standards in future free trade agreements.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

The Government are committed to meeting their ambitious environmental objectives. We are exploring all options in the design of future trade and investment agreements, including environmental provisions within those, to ensure that we uphold the UK’s high environmental standards.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

Last year’s free trade agreement between Mexico, the US and Canada ran to 250 pages but failed to mention climate change or global emissions. What assurances can the Minister give the House that the free trade agreement being negotiated by his Government between the UK and the US will not make the same mistake and will put climate change at the heart of it?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

The hon. Lady raises a good question. The UK is absolutely committed to our international climate change agenda; that is one of our key objectives. We have not included that because the US is withdrawing from the Paris accord, which we regret. She mentioned the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. That agreement does include 30 pages of environmental commitments, including, for example, on sustainability, forestry, air quality, marine plastics, multilateral agreements and so on. There is plenty of potential for us to go further on the environment with our US trade agreement.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

There is no point in the UK achieving our own zero-carbon targets if the trade deals we reach with other countries are pushing them ever further away from achieving theirs. Can the Secretary of State ensure that all future FTAs agreed by the UK reinforce the legal primacy of emission targets established in the Paris climate change agreement?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

It is worth pointing out that nothing in any trade agreement would prevent the UK from reaching its targets under the Paris agreement and to go net zero by 2050—we are the first Government to commit to doing that, and no trade agreement will prevent us from doing that. We remain on the front foot in our advocacy, making sure that the international response remains extremely strong, including through multilateral agreements and the UK contribution to the global climate fund.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

Last year, Brazil lost an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire, and the new land reforms proposed by the Bolsonaro Administration will make the scale of deforestation and commercial exploitation in the Amazon even worse. In the light of that, can the Minister tell us what environmental conditions are attached to his Department’s £20 million trade facilitation programme with Brazil? Will he promise to suspend that programme if the Bolsonaro Administration persist with their proposed land reform laws?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

This question is about trade agreements, and it is worth pointing out that we are not currently in negotiation with Brazil on a trade agreement. The European Union is, by the way. When it comes to trade agreements, the right hon. Lady needs to get her own house in order. Yesterday at this very Dispatch Box, she praised EU trade agreements with Pacific rim countries in the CPTPP. The only problem for her is that those on the Labour Front Bench voted against CETA and did not support the EU-Japan agreement. Worst of all, she led her troops to vote against the Trade Bill—

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

The Labour Front Bench at the time. She led her troops to vote against the Trade Bill, which would roll all these EU trade agreements over to become UK trade agreements.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Scottish Land and Estates has said that food and farming is critical, and it is concerned that UK producers are not placed in an impossible situation where they have to compete in an effective “race to the bottom”. What guarantees can the Secretary of State give that cheaply produced agrifood imports will not lead to that race to the bottom?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Minister for Women and Equalities

First, we have the independent Food Standards Agency, which is committed to high food standards. All the food standards that are currently with us through EU law are put into UK law as a result of the withdrawal agreement, so those standards are not going to be lowered, and they are not going to be negotiated as part of any trade agreement.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but I did not ask about food quality standards; I understand that. I am asking about production standards. As the National Farmers Union of Scotland has pointed out, there is deep concern about the importation of agrifoods into the UK that may be produced to an inequivalent and uncompetitive standard. How will she guard against agrifood imports produced to that inequivalent standard, which is much cheaper and simply could not or would not be done in the UK?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Minister for Women and Equalities

Scottish beef and lamb is a very high-quality product and highly competitive. When the beef ban is ended with the US, we will have the opportunity to get British beef into the US market—there is £66 million-worth of opportunity for that product—but in every trade agreement I negotiate, I will always make sure that our farmers, with their high standards, are not undermined.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Food standards were not a matter for the Agriculture Bill—at least that is what MPs, including Conservative Back Benchers, were told on Report. They were told that they would be included in the Trade Bill. I am sure agriculture Ministers were telling the truth, so will the Government accept Labour’s amendment to the Trade Bill to enshrine in law the principle that food imported under any free trade agreement must maintain our farming industry’s high production and safety standards?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Minister for Women and Equalities

The reason they were not part of the Agriculture Bill is that the import standards that we already have and which already ensure that we import only high-quality products into this country are being transported into UK law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. That is already there. There has been a lot of scaremongering going around about these lowered standards. That is simply not true. We are maintaining exactly the standards we have, which are in place, for example, through agreements with Canada.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Chair, International Trade Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade Team Member), Chair, International Trade Committee

Tapadh leibh, Mr Speaker. We hope to see the Secretary of State at the International Trade Committee next week, as requested by Committee members for a number of weeks. At yesterday’s Committee hearing, the NFU, the CBI and the TUC all coalesced around the figure that Brexit would cost the UK about 4.9% of GDP and an American trade deal would benefit it by around 0.16% of GDP—a thirtieth of what is being lost by Brexit. They said that gains from the Japan deal would be a lot less than the paltry lot from the US deal, so can any Minister furnish the House with the figure for what would be gained as a percentage of GDP from a Japan-UK trade deal?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Minister for Women and Equalities

First of all, I am extremely happy to appear in front of the hon. Gentleman’s Committee, and I will ask my office to immediately set that up in the diary. I am very keen to communicate with the Committee about the various trade deals we are negotiating.

We published figures for the scoping study on the Japan free trade agreement, but this is not an either/or. We want to get a good trade deal with the EU. We want to get a good trade deal with the US. We also want to get access to CPTPP, which is a very fast-growing part of the world. That is what we want. We want global Britain to sit at the heart of a network of free trade agreements.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

In March, the Government said that Japan must show “increased ambition” and set a higher headline target on reducing carbon emissions ahead of COP26. Is that still the view of the Secretary of State? Will she show increased ambition and include more stretching, measurable and binding climate targets in the new free trade agreement she puts in place with Japan?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Minister for Women and Equalities

We have a huge opportunity to achieve our environmental objectives in many of the free trade agreements we are negotiating. For example, with New Zealand, which is a leader in this area, we will be looking for very advanced environmental clauses, and of course we will seek those in negotiations with Japan. But the hon. Gentleman should understand that there are a number of routes through which we are pursuing our objectives, namely our leadership of the COP26 summit, and it is right that that process should be the primary focus of where we achieve our climate change objectives.