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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy) 9:15 pm, 23rd January 2019

My noble friend is absolutely right. One of the frustrations when people talk so blatantly about WTO rules is that the United States is working very hard to undermine the entire structure of the WTO and is threatening to leave. Talk about timing: they hold up and pray in aid a system that is on the verge of crumbling. It is hard to see how the WTO rules will have ongoing force and substance when there is no dispute resolution mechanism available. It could happen any day; with elderly judges, all it takes is one death or retirement. This issue will not stretch out into the future; it is a current and immediate problem that has to be dealt with. In this House we often try to explain that the WTO has severe limitations and real risks, but apparently Brexiteers’ ears are closed to those concerns. I very much agree with my noble friend.

The EU’s goal, however, is not to stop at the point of creating an investment court system embedded in a bilateral trade agreement, but to move on over time—and this will take some time—to a multilateral investment court. Some fundamental principles that would underpin such a court have been set out: to be treated fairly; not to face discrimination; to be able to transfer funds freely; to be compensated for any expropriation; and to be able to enforce one’s rights. This has become the new dynamic, and I expect it to be a very forceful dynamic for the future.

That is why I tabled Amendment 56, which would essentially pick up and align the UK with that forward-looking movement. It says that we shall not sign or ratify new trade agreements unless there is,

“a commitment by all parties … to pursue with other trading partners the establishment of a multilateral investment tribunal”— that could be a court—

“and appellate mechanism for the resolution of investment disputes.”

Looking forward, that seems to me to be absolutely critical.

In the continuity agreements that are being negotiated as we stand here, and which have to be completed in a matter of days, which kind of resolution system are we embedding? Will it be one that is changing literally as we speak, so that the EU may well be in a very different place during the lifetime of the continuity agreement—and probably in a much better place, because everybody I have spoken to thinks that the new shape of the investment court system is far superior—or are we locking ourselves into the old system? Where are we positioning ourselves in the general debate—which is very important because we are a trading country—about how these issues will be handled and the multilateral potential for future trading arrangements? I hope the Minister will address these issues. It is pertinent to continuity as well as to long-term agreements.