Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Fairhead Baroness Fairhead The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 10:00 pm, 21st January 2019

My guidance is that it is because it will already happen as a result of the withdrawal Act so it is unnecessary. There is also the risk of including some but maybe leaving one out. That is my understanding, but clearly this may be a matter that we take up on Report.

The vast majority of these EU agreements are already in operation and have not resulted in a lowering of standards on animal welfare, the environment or food safety. The powers in the Trade Bill will be used not to lower standards but only to implement obligations. As I said before, it is not the intention—nor do we have the opportunity or time—to make changes; it really is about rolling over. I can hear from the mood of the House that this may not satisfy or reassure, but it is certainly the guidance that we have had. I am sure that this will get brought up again on Report.

I will move on to Amendment 15, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The EU has pushed to include trade and sustainable development chapters, including provisions on environmental protections, in its free trade agreements since the free trade agreement completed with South Korea. In general, these point to commonly held international standards on environmental protection, agreed through multilateral environmental agreements, and commit each party not to reduce these protections in a manner affecting trade. Again, these commitments will be retained as we transition these agreements. However, these commitments do not prevent us improving our protections as we see fit. The UK will be bound by international multilateral environmental agreements to which it is party and we are committed to upholding those obligations. We will continue to collaborate with our European and global partners to protect our environment.

The withdrawal agreement contains non-regression clauses on environmental and labour standards. The UK already has some of the highest standards in the world in place and noble Lords should be confident that we will maintain high regulatory environmental standards once we leave the EU. A reciprocal non-regression commitment would mean that neither party could lower its regulatory standards below current levels. The UK will maintain its high regulatory standards for the environment and we are committed, as I said, to upholding our obligations.

With reference to Amendment 15, I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the Government will ensure that our high environmental protections are maintained. We will also transition all EU FTAs, including the provisions on environmental protections provided within these and the commitments not to reduce our commitment to international standards. I hope that this reassures the noble Baroness and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who sought an answer on this.

Turning to the concerns raised on standards in Amendment 25, this amendment would ensure the UK could ratify trade agreements with third countries only if those agreements ensured that imports complied with food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards set in primary and subordinate UK legislation. I have already pointed to the requirements of the CRaG, which ensures that Parliament can block trade agreements. As a result, we are absolutely clear that all existing commitments relating to standards and regulations will remain in place. Far from reducing standards, this Bill is about preserving the beneficial arrangements that consumers and businesses enjoy. This includes the high regulatory standards embedded in our existing agreements. I say again that the Bill is not about making provision for future free trade agreements; this amendment goes beyond the purpose of this Bill.