Safeguarding Democracy, Rights and the Environment

Business and Trade – in the House of Commons on 18 May 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

If she will make an assessment of the implications for her policies of the report by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Council of Europe entitled “Safeguarding democracy, rights and the environment in international trade”.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade) (jointly with the Cabinet Office)

It is clear that we live in dangerous times. Autocracies are behaving in a way that many of us have not seen in our lifetimes. The UK stands at a crossroads of this geopolitical stand-off between international rules-based systems as we know them and the system that autocratic leaders would like them to become. Trade and investment are at the very heart of that crossroads. The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally, which will continue as an independent trading nation. By growing our trading relationships, the UK can increase its influence, which helps us to open conversations bilaterally with partners on a range of issues.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

The Minister knows that I am trade rapporteur to the Council of Europe. My report, which has been agreed by 46 member states, calls for due diligence on the border to protect supply chains from human rights abuse and deforestation, and more clout for the environment vis-à-vis the interests of energy companies, in particular in dispute mechanisms. Will she meet me about taking forward those proposals so that trade agreements green rather than blacken our planet and uphold rather than diminish our fundamental rights?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade) (jointly with the Cabinet Office)

I have read the hon. Member’s report, because he sent it to me. I have lost many hours of my life, but I have read it and I enjoyed it. It would be remiss of me not to thank my hon. Friend John Howell, the Conservative leader of the UK parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe, for all his work. There is lots of really good stuff. [Interruption.] He leads the delegation, but the hon. Member wrote the report, which I have read. There are some good points, especially on China’s emissions, which are greater than USA and the EU combined.

The UK works with allies and partners through multilateral systems to promote our values globally. Multilateral forums include the UN, the World Trade Organisation, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe. I will sit down and work through the hon. Member’s report with him.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade)

I congratulate my hon. Friend Geraint Davies on his work on this report, which includes calling out the energy charter treaty used by fossil fuel companies to sue Governments for introducing climate policies. It is now nearly a year since the Minister’s colleague, Greg Hands, said:

The UK cannot support an outdated treaty which holds back investment in clean energy and puts British taxpayers at increased risk from costly legal challenges”.

Can the Minister tell us when the Government will follow the example of other major European countries and commit to withdrawing from the energy charter treaty?

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade) (jointly with the Cabinet Office)

The energy charter treaty, which is under review, falls under the responsibilities of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, which has been formed from half of my previous Department. In their negotiations to modernise the ECT, the former Departments for International Trade and for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy worked in close collaboration and DIT led on the investment provisions, so there is no doubt that the hon. Lady’s question would be better focused at the other Department.