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Trade Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 9:00 pm, 23rd January 2019

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 28 in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. I declare my interests, as noted in the register, on this amendment and on Amendment 30.

Amendment 28, which proposes a new clause, is a probing amendment to better understand the Government’s intentions in transposing or rolling over current EU trade agreements into UK law. Behind EU directives are policies and aspirations. Following on from the previous amendment, how far do these necessarily transfer over with this legislation? I point to the intentions specified under Clause 5(2) and Clause 3(3) that these trade agreements will mirror the existing EU agreements and that, where differences may occur, they will be specified. The relevant words are “any significant differences”, on page 4, line 26, and page 3, line 37. I ask the Minister to give the Committee a definition of “significant differences” and how we should interpret this. It is pertinent to many businesses and regions within the UK, as I shall draw attention to when we discuss Amendment 30 on geographical indicators. The Government may have a different interpretation that a trade agreement could affect existing and future trade.

One such issue relates to an environmental goods agreement, one of the ethical themes drawn attention to in our debate on Monday on Amendment 8 concerning international obligations. If the UK is to begin an independent trade policy, it is vital that sustainability is at the forefront of our intentions and agreements, including through a renewed commitment to the environmental goods agreement. It is important at this stage that everyone is familiar with the concept of environmental goods. They are not any particular product as such but more like a public benefit, in the same terms as the concept in the Agriculture Bill of “public goods”—not necessarily a profit-and-loss item to be bargained with. It is important that such environmental goods, as a policy background already in EU thinking to be transferred over on exit, do not get squeezed out of trade talks. At the very least it should be recognised that the EU has been a very good international forum for initiating these developments.

Although talks are currently on hold, the EU and 17 other participants of the WTO have indicated a willingness to negotiate an agreement to abolish tariffs on items used to achieve environmental and climate-protection goals. The idea, which unfortunately has lain dormant since 2016, has great potential and, despite the reluctance of some of the world’s key players to take the ambition seriously, there is hope yet that the agreement can be revitalised. Even in recent months we have seen positive signs that talks can return. In July last year, a white paper from the Chinese Government used previous talks on the issue as evidence of their commitment to sustainability. If talks are eventually going to be successful, and there is good reason to believe that they will be, an agreement would reduce and remove tariffs on environmental goods, including those aiding and abetting efforts to control air pollution, generate clean and renewable energy, improve resource efficiency, and manage and treat water waste and waste of all kinds. Such components aid our efforts at home to be more sustainable but will also help us to meet targets, ranging from the UN sustainable development goals to the Paris climate change accord.

Talks relating to the environmental goods agreement have stumbled, in part due to the lack of enthusiasm from some of our allies, but the core principle is one that the UK should get behind and re-energise. The UK should present itself as a champion of the negotiations, using our influence on the world stage to persuade those who seem reluctant to re-engage in negotiation. As the UK evolves into a separate entity from the EU, we should focus efforts on playing a central role in future negotiations with the vision to fully participate. I hope the Minister will agree and will assure the Committee that this is within the Government’s intentions. More specifically, I ask the Minister to tell us how the Government interpret “significant differences” and to assure us that the transposition of EU law will include the approach initiated at EU level towards trade agreements. I beg to move.