Moved by Lord Grantchester
That this House regrets the Economic Partnership Agreement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Cameroon given (1) the human rights abuses committed by President Biya’s regime, and (2) the lack of parliamentary scrutiny before trading arrangements came into force on
Relevant document: 1st Report from the International Agreements Committee
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for tabling his Motion on Ghana, and I welcome the debate taking place on both of these today. I will necessarily be focusing my remarks on Cameroon, leaving him to focus on the partnership agreement with Ghana, given the importance of tonight.
We have had a very busy couple of weeks of trade developments: CPTPP negotiations launching, an Australian deal being partially announced and the TRA’s recommendations on steel imports coming out. I want to make clear that we on this side want good trade deals that grow the economy, stimulate sectors and protect livelihoods and standards, reflecting the modern approach to trade that goes wider than mere economic exchange. As we ask questions and debate agreements, I want the Government always to remember that.
The Government do not seem to appreciate not only how scrutiny of trade deals should change to reflect the new status of the United Kingdom having left the EU, with all the constitutional arrangements that need to reflect that, but that trade deals need to reflect the new trading realities in the world today, which is undergoing a climate crisis against the backcloth of the pandemic, and where respect for rights, minorities and sustainability needs to become ingrained. These points were repeatedly made during the passage of the Trade Bill through your Lordships’ House last year, when many questions were asked about the future trading policy of this Government. It was repeatedly stated that the Trade Act referred only to rollover deals, with the Government refusing to answer how they would address and adapt the CRaG process to account for these sentiments. I remind the Minister that the CRaG process was set as appropriate for the UK being a member state of the EU.
In the rush forward with these new developments, a theme can be seen and identified where Ministers appear to be prioritising trade at any cost without any clear policies or moral compass, whether that means abandoning the fishing industry, selling out British farmers, failing British steel or abandoning British families. I believe that Cameroon fits into that pattern. Although accounting for only 0.1% of total UK trade, this deal means much more for human rights, scrutiny and future trade agreements.
The first part of my Motion necessarily focuses on human rights violations. Government forces have committed widespread abuse across Cameroon’s anglophone region since 2017. The UN estimates that 3,500 people have died and 700,000 have been displaced. Suspected violations include extrajudicial killings, torture, the destruction of property, fair trial violations and inhumane and degrading conditions of detention. Events in Cameroon have been painstakingly logged by the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford, with one media report from
“the military came in as the mother was struggling to prepare food for the family … The soldiers came in … and shot the child in the back of the head.”
The report goes on to call on the international community to “help us”.
This incident is heartbreaking but not isolated. Human Rights Watch has said that government forces committed widespread human rights abuses throughout 2020, and yet, at the end of that year, our Government agreed to roll over trade arrangements with the regime responsible. Can the Minister simply tell the House why? This was in spite of the Foreign Secretary saying in January that we should not be engaged in free trade negotiations with countries abusing human rights, and in spite of the Minister saying in this House in December 2020, again in February this year, and yet again in March, that trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights.
Clearly, the gap between the Government’s rhetoric and actions is vast, and that is also becoming a clear hallmark of this Government. By signing this agreement, the UK is actually moving in the opposite direction to the US and more enlightened trading relationships. In January 2020, the US terminated Cameroon’s eligibility for trade preference benefits due to the Biya regime’s persistent violations of internationally recognised human rights. Let us not be confused: this was under the previous US Administration. If President Trump can act, why cannot Secretary of State Truss?
Can the Minister confirm that all future explanatory memorandums to trade deals will include information about significant issues of concern raised by devolved Administrations and how they have been addressed? Looking to future arrangements, can the Minister also explain the UK’s policy on the inclusion of human rights clauses and how they will be reflected in every deal? The recent Norway and Iceland treaty contained no such clauses. While I am not worried specifically about those countries, I am worried about what precedent this sets for agreements with the Gulf states and Brazil.
This returns us to the focus on parliamentary scrutiny. On
Under challenge from the shadow Secretary of State Emily Thornberry, the Secretary of State replied in a letter dated
I pay tribute to the Minister for the many times that he has committed the Government to proper parliamentary scrutiny. I know that he will remember doing so during the Trade Bill and in answering many Questions and making Written Ministerial Statements. Indeed, his pronouncements have been codified into the “Grimstone rule”. I know that he is committed to good governance, even under the outdated CRaG process.
It is disheartening to witness the actual interpretation of scrutiny arrangements by this Government—
My Lords, I rise to speak to the take-note Motion in my name and in so doing declare an interest, in that I co-chair the All-Party Group on Trade out of Poverty, and through that I co-chaired a commission on trade and development in the Commonwealth.
I thank the Government Whips’ Office for facilitating this debate. I have been pleased to work very closely with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, in ensuring that this joint debate takes place. Perhaps he did not have the opportunity to say so, but if he seeks to test the opinion of the House on his Motion to Regret, we on these Benches will support him, for reasons that I will outline in a moment.
My Liberal Democrat colleague Sarah Olney secured an Adjournment debate on the UK agreements with Cameroon and Ghana in the Commons on
I am not alone in wanting the Government to have taken a less passive role in this area. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, on
In his reply to the International Agreements Committee’s report, the Minister in the Commons stated:
“Our long-standing relationship with Cameroon allows us to have open, candid discussions”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/6/21; col. 1070.]
He cited the Minister for Africa’s meetings and said that the UK is monitoring the situation. Today, I ask for clarity, as I did in our debates on the Trade Bill, on what processes the UK has in place to transparently judge human rights compliance. In the UK-Cameroon agreement there is a so-called nuclear option of the essential elements clauses for human rights violations. However, we still have no idea what escalation-triggering mechanisms the UK would seek to use in any successor agreement, or indeed any agreement at all. My frustration is that the Government, having been given many opportunities through the Trade Bill, have resolutely refused to publish a trade and human rights policy which sets out human rights criteria, observation and monitoring mechanisms, public reporting, and a staged process of escalation that could lead to suspension or removal of preferential access to UK markets.
During the passage of the Trade Bill, I stated repeatedly—and, indeed, had amendments to the Bill referring to—the need for the UK to have a successor to the Cotonou agreement. On
On trade facilitation, I agree with the Minister when he says, frequently, that these agreements mean nothing if they cannot be operationalised. The reality for developing countries is that we have added more burdens on them for continuity of trade and have committed ourselves to supporting their implementation, but the Government have not said how.
On Cameroon, paragraph 3 of Article 9, on the financing of the partnership, states:
“The UK will provide funding through mechanisms such as the UK Prosperity Fund to support implementation of this Agreement.”
But a letter of
“supporting the implementation of this Agreement shall be among the priorities.”
Paragraph 5 commits the UK to providing
“funding to support implementation of this Agreement with a view to ensuring a simple, efficient and quick implementation.”
I hope that that is not simply a reference to an existing UK-Ghana partnership for jobs and economic transformation scheme, which I saw elements of for myself when I visited Accra. Can the Minister confirm that funding for this has not been cut, what new funding exists to honour this treaty obligation, and over what timescale?
The burden on Ghana and its Fairtrade farmers was felt immediately at the end of the transition period when the UK applied tariffs on imported goods. Some of the goods were turned away because the UK ports were not ready. I had warned of this before the end of the transition, when the Minister said there was no problem, and afterwards I raised it in the House, as the IAC report has highlighted, and the Government said that it could not have been helped. There was a problem and it could have been prevented.
In response to the justified conclusion of the IAC on the lack of a bridging mechanism to avoid this, the Minister said in his letter that Her Majesty’s Government
“could not use a bridging mechanism to maintain Ghana’s duty free quota free access during this period, as negotiations on the agreement were ongoing.”
But the department’s letter is directly contradicted by its information note of December 2020, which states in paragraph 5:
“Where we or our treaty partners are unable to fully ratify or provisionally apply an agreement, we will seek to give effect to the preferences under the signed UK agreements (or, if necessary, under the existing EU agreements) through alternative bridging mechanisms.”
So, as the department states itself, it could have bridged the existing EU mechanisms but chose not to. Can the Minister say why it did not?
Finally, by definition these agreements are already out of date, but the UK has not signalled any clear intention of renewal or expansion. I hope that the Minister will respond positively by giving a clear signal of the successor agreements and that he will find time to meet me, members of the all-party group and other colleagues who believe that there is great potential in our trade with these countries, specifically Ghana. There are barriers to overcome but by working together, we should be able to realise that potential.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. I declare my interests as listed in the register and that, in my time as Minister for Africa, I had the chance to visit both countries and to meet President Paul Biya and President Nana Akufo-Addo.
The benefits of free trade are absolutely huge and although the figures for our bilateral trade with Ghana, which is £1.2 billion, and with Cameroon, which is £200 million, may sound quite large, when you compare this to, for example, our bilateral trade with the Republic of Ireland, which is £70 billion, our total bilateral trade with sub-Saharan Africa is only £40 billion, so the scope for an increase in that is absolutely huge. I suggest that we have to take these really fast-growing economies more seriously. I welcome the focus on Africa in the recent integrated review of security, defence and development, because these are some of the countries where there are growing middle-income parts of the population and other countries are aggressively using their influence to try to build their trade, particularly China, Russia, Turkey and Brazil. We need to act quickly and these rollover treaties are an incredibly important part of that.
I absolutely take on board the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. What a huge contrast there is with Ghana, which has transitioned from one regime to another with the minimum of fuss and been an exemplar for smooth democracy in west Africa. In fact, I had the pleasure of meeting Nana Akufo-Addo many times as the result of the partnership between his party, the NPP, and my party, the Conservative Party, over many years. We were called to the Bar at roughly the same time. He worked incredibly hard for his position, persevered and fought a number of elections. On many occasions he accepted the result and eventually he won the prize as president. What a contrast with Paul Biya, who we all know runs what is effectively a dictatorship. There have been repeated human right abuses over a number of years and, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, pointed out, there has been a focus on human rights abuses in the anglophone part of southern Cameroon, which I have visited on occasions.
I would just say to the noble Lord that we have two options here. Either we remain engaged and have a dialogue with Cameroon and exert influence. I found that, when I was able to meet President Biya, in private we were able to achieve much more by making representations around human rights, but at the same time remaining engaged. I just say to the noble Lord, and others who have a regret about this Motion, we do not have a dispute with the Cameroonian people. We want prosperity, engagement and wealth creation, and if we can achieve those aims, we will see Cameroon move to democracy and to proper all-party elections and, in the meantime, create prosperity for the people of Cameroon and, indeed, the people of this country as well.
While I sympathise with the spirit of the Motion to Regret, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, like the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, I cannot support it because our imports from Cameroon are so marginal that to impose any restriction on them would penalise some people in a very poor country without having any effect at all on the policies of their Government. EU sanctions might make a difference; on our own, we cannot. Trade flows with Ghana and Cameroon are marginal for us, but the point I draw to the House’s attention is seriously significant to British business because it is common to all these so-called rollover agreements. It is addressed in paragraphs 11 and 22 of the report that we are looking at today and concerns asymmetrical rules of origin, which seem to me to be one of the principal respects in which the new agreements are worse for British business than the situation before Brexit.
Take Cameroon as an example. It imports five times as much from France and more from Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy than it does from this country. Given integrated EU supply chains, there will have been UK content in these imports from the EU, but because our new TCA with the EU does not permit diagonal cumulation, such content will now disqualify such goods from the EU’s preferential trade arrangements, such as those with Cameroon. So, continental businesses will tend to look elsewhere for their components. It is asymmetrical: Cameroon’s exports to us will, under this agreement, still satisfy our rules of origin, however many European components they contain. More seriously, the same asymmetry applies in agreements with major trading partners such as Japan. Under the trade and co-operation agreement, not only will UK-assembled goods—motor vehicles, for example—not have tariff-free access to the continental market; those assembled here will not qualify for the EU’s preferential deals with third countries if their third-country content, in the first case, or their third-country and UK content in the second case, exceed rather low thresholds. That is bound to have serious economic effects in this country.
The problem was addressed at some length in chapter 3 of the EU Committee’s 24th report, of
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register of interests. I support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Grantchester and welcome the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on Ghana.
Cameroon is in the grip of a major humanitarian conflict, fuelled by events in the north with Boko Haram and in the anglophone region with the movement there for secession. There are major food shortages and more than 1 million externally and internally displaced people. Ghana, by contrast, is a fully functioning, secure, successful, multi-party democracy. Both, however, have huge potential in terms of agriculture, minerals and manufacturing export. Trade is the key to their future prosperity, and it is on regional trade that I will seek to address the House today.
The Africa free trade agreement offers the best hope for growth in GDP and the alleviation of poverty. Will the Government commit to work, as a matter of urgency and with a specific timetable, to enter into negotiations with the ECOWAS region so as to maximise economic transformation and development through successful regional integration?
The agreement signed with Ghana commits the British Government to do that. It will be vital for there to be capacity, not just within ECOWAS and Ghana in order to negotiate such an agreement. The FCDO has a role to play in that in terms of building capacity, but it is also important that there is a joined-up effort among departments within our own Government in order to ensure that we are able to come to an agreement with the whole of ECOWAS as a matter of urgency. Engagement is crucial.
The Government also, and importantly, need to replicate within west Africa their success in TradeMark East Africa, which supports the development of the market value chain and the development of manufacture and agribusiness in east Africa. We need to see the same in west Africa.
We need to publish a medium-term strategy for our trade support to both Ghana and the Cameroon—and the whole of the ECOWAS region—in order to deliver that as a matter of urgency. Aid will take Africa and this region only so far; trade is much more important in the short, medium and long term. These agreements ought to be working in ways that promote successful integration. I hope that the Government will commit to the resources to make that happen.
My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and my noble friend Lord Purvis for obtaining this debate, and also express my appreciation to the committee for its reports.
At the time that it achieved independence, Ghana ran on British imports, and Kwame Nkrumah was determined to develop home-produced wares. With that in view, he encouraged textiles, which, through a number of state-owned enterprises, provided a great deal of employment. The coup which ousted him in 1966 unhappily let those developments rust away, so that today only 2% of Ghana’s high-quality cotton is processed in the country; most is exported to China and other south-east Asian countries.
In the Covid epidemic, the Ghanaian Government adopted a policy of self-reliance. For example, they developed the production of PPE in their factories and are trying to produce their own pharmaceuticals. Can the Minister tell us to what extent this trade agreement assists this policy of self-reliance? It is clearly in the interests of this country, by reason of our colonial history, not to regard Ghana simply as a customer for our exports; it is important that we use trade to support stability and prosperity in this region, beyond buying their bananas. At the moment, Ghana is less impacted by the terrorist raids and atrocities that undermine some of its neighbours to the north. Let us hope it remains so. The imposition of tariffs on its banana exports, at the beginning of the year, was not helpful. What steps have the Government taken to reimburse those producers whose businesses were hit?
As for the trade deal with Cameroon, can the Minister explain why we have entered into a rollover agreement with a country whose administration is so mired by human rights abuses that even Donald Trump withdrew trade privileges from them? The protection of human rights is said to be an essential element in the agreement, but words are not enough in the face of ongoing human rights abuses, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester.
The arrests, arbitrary detentions and prosecutions in military courts of opposition members, in the latter part of last year, is just one more example. Another is the violent clearing by police and military, with the use of tear gas, of a magistrates’ court last December, when a group of a hundred lawyers protested against refusal of bail for two of their number, who had been arrested for exercising freedom of speech. The harsh repression of opposition and dissenting voices shows no sign of abating. I am afraid this Government lack the moral compass to do anything to discourage it.
My Lords, I cannot support the noble Lord’s Motion to Regret. I cannot see that removing preferences will help banana workers in south- west Cameroon.
I will sketch the appalling troubles in Cameroon’s south-west. Britain, Germany and France bear a grave responsibility for restoring peace and stability. Britain’s involvement began in 1845 with the Baptist missionary Alfred Saker, who, with freed Jamaican slaves, built Victoria, now called Limbe, on the gulf. Kew first worked close to Limbe on plant diversity in 1860. I was Kew’s chairman when, in the 1990s, we restored the Limbe botanic garden. Kew has 55,000 specimens from Cameroon and is working on protecting the Ebo forest from logging, by designating it a tropical important plant area.
As chief executive of CDC, I was responsible for its management of the ex-German plantations in the south-west. This started before independence, ran for 40 years and came to an end only when the Blair Government forced CDC to pull out. Skilful management of plantations is a great aid to stability. CDC today, skilfully chaired by Sir Graham Wrigley, is invested in electricity generation and distribution, and has been in Cameroon for 70 years so far. Britain’s pressing responsibilities arise from this 175-year involvement. We need to stay involved to contribute to the much-needed improvement in the lives of Cameroonians.
Regrettably, Cameroon’s development to date is disappointing. This wonderful country’s development is way behind what could and should have been achieved. The re-establishment of peace and security is of the highest importance but cannot rely on Cameroon’s Government. The United Nations cannot do the necessary—we must. Outside the EU, we need to find our own way forward. What is the Government’s policy towards the anglophone crisis in south-west Cameroon?
My Lords, the seriousness of the situation in Cameroon urgently demands a road to peace. Any form of general instability, upsurges in violence or atrocities in Africa’s central belt, now stretching into northern Mozambique, could create a correlation between abuses by separatists and government forces, which are accused of killing with impunity, and African jihadist terrorist groups turning Cameroon into a fertile recruiting ground.
While western inertia is worrying, positive engagement between the UN special representative and the Government of Cameroon is of course helpful. Judging by the UN Security Council’s briefing on
Encouragingly, however, the US now appears to be leading on pressurising for peace. Although predominantly francophone, Cameroon is an equal member of the Commonwealth, but it was the anglo content that was the driver for admittance. The Commonwealth ASG recently underlined to us a recognition that it wants to do more but is hindered by the Covid situation. Will the Minister encourage the Commonwealth to follow through on this matter of the utmost urgency, updating us today on this and the latest considerations of the OAU?
Government should also place the anomalies of Cameroon high on the list of French bilateral considerations and address the perception of having largely ignored the situation over a long period. London and Paris—which has more influence on Yaoundé than we do—must rub their minds together to bring urgent resolutions to these atrocities. Franco-Cameroonian relations run deep, with multifaceted security co-operation. However, as with the FCDO, little is heard from the Quai d’Orsay, although it responds to debates in the Assemblée Nationale, setting out sizable budgetary allocations to include security and decentralisation.
Today is the opportunity to be informed of the strategy of the UK Government. We owe it to anglo Cameroon, which was let down from the start. The French Foreign Minister recently noted that a whole generation has been sacrificed, that targeted sanctions of asset freezes and travel bans for both sides should be advanced and that an unstable Cameroon is bad for the whole region. I would add to the mix any sanctions that might focus on the development of Cameroon’s offshore gas deposits, particularly the use of LNG facilities in Equatorial Guinea.
During a recent parliamentary Session, the French Government addressed the anglophone crisis, with one deputy accusing the Government of supporting the dictatorial regime of President Biya. He is quoted as saying:
“The French postcolonial denial is very worrying and these old methods of Francafrique lead us into the wall vis-à-vis Africa and Europe”.
He added that it is very worrying for France to remain silent about pertinent issues in Africa, and intimated that the UK has the same historical responsibility.
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. I welcome this opportunity to scrutinise the economic partnership agreement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Cameroon as well as the interim trade partnership with Ghana. I welcome the latter and wish to focus my remarks on the former.
Global Britain does at least allow us to trade freely and raise concerns with our trading partners on environmental concerns, addressing climate change and the observance of human rights, the issue that we are looking at here. This is to be welcomed, and I certainly do so. I subscribe to the importance of human rights and the view that greater and open trade affords the opportunity to improve the life chances of people in other countries as well as our own, while pressing for action on these matters, specifically human rights in this case. Therefore, I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister about what action is being taken by the authorities in Cameroon at our behest to end the repression of English-speaking minorities there.
This repression began four years ago and was not a concern when the EU-Cameroon trade agreement was concluded 11 years ago. We need to look at this matter afresh. So, although I strongly support free trade, can my noble friend say what the UK has specifically asked of Cameroon and what we are requiring it to do based on the influence we are able to exercise through this trade agreement concerning the anglophone minorities in the country? They have suffered violence, death, displacement, the arrest of opposition leaders and party members, and widespread disruption, violence and civil disorder. We need to press for action.
I see that the Government have rightly asked the devolved authorities what concerns they have about these agreements. We have also asked the Crown dependencies and Gibraltar about any significant issues of concern. It would be helpful if my noble friend could set out the responses from those authorities. On a broader front, it is clearly useful for us to be able to debate these trade agreements as they are concluded. Can my noble friend consider with the Government and the usual channels a reliable routine procedure for doing this so that Parliament is more closely involved and can express a view in such situations?
Clearly, committees of both Houses and Members in the other place have raised concerns about this agreement. It demands action from the Government on the future process for trade agreements in general, as well as on the particular concerns relating to this agreement. However, I believe that we are more likely to make a difference through trade agreements; I therefore do not support the regret Motion.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, although I disagree with him entirely about the impact of trade historically and in the present day. I quote Professor Patrick Greiner from Vanderbilt University:
“Since … the 1400s, problems of resource scarcity have been managed through colonial conquest and economic integration. These approaches impoverished Global South nations, robbing them of their natural wealth … The result has been development in the Global North, destabilization and impoverishment in much of the Global South and climate change for all.”
I thank both noble Lords for securing this debate and offer the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the Green group’s support for his regret Motion, which addresses human rights abuses specifically. I would say that the political structures that have arisen and allowed this to be are long-term colonial and post-colonial relationships.
The world has agreed to the sustainable development goals, which imagine a different kind of future and interrelationship. I do not think that these two agreements meet or follow that SDG approach. The Government’s own assessment in both these reports refers very narrowly to a different 2015 rapid evidence assessment of the impact of trade between developed and developing nations. The conclusion is that it did
“not provide conclusive guidance on the overall impact … due to a few significant gaps in coverage, particularly regarding the revenue, distributional and social/environmental effects of FTAs.”
To take a quick glance at what trade has done in Ghana and Cameroon, I turn to a World Health Organization report that talks about a tsunami of electronic waste being imported into Ghana and notes:
“A child who eats just one chicken egg from Agbogbloshie, a waste site in Ghana, will absorb 220 times the European Food Safety Authority daily limit for intake of chlorinated dioxins.”
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred to the environmental riches of Cameroon. The east and south were once heavily forested, with ebony, sapele and African cherry, among others. A lot of that has gone to musical instruments. Both Cameroon and Ghana have huge deforestation, relating particularly to what is known in Ghana as “galamsey”—craft informal mining, particularly for gold. Among tropical countries, Ghana has suffered among the highest levels of deforestation. There are now 1.6 million hectares of forest in Ghana, down from 8.2 million hectares in 1900.
We are talking about doing more trade on the old kind of terms. We have seen the impacts. Let us stop doing the same things and getting the same results.
My Lords, the two trade agreements we are debating today are with two very different countries: Ghana, a flourishing democracy with a robust and growing economy, and Cameroon—[Inaudible]—racked. Noble Lords have spoken so eloquently. They need, therefore, to be considered separately.
I believe we should give our full and unqualified backing to the agreement with Ghana, but I would be grateful if the Minister would give the House a progress report on the preparatory work his department has in hand for a full, new-style free trade agreement with Ghana and other African countries, not just the tread-water, rollover one of which the present agreement consists. In the case of Cameroon, it would be helpful if the Minister could say, quite clearly, whether the reported human rights abuses were raised in the negotiations. If so, what was the response of the Cameroon Government? If not, why not? Is it not the case that the EU’s Cotonou agreement, to which we were hitherto a party, does in fact provide scope for raising human rights abuses?
More widely, what are the Government doing, together with others including the African Union and the Commonwealth, to prevent the internal tensions between the anglophone and francophone communities in Cameroon sliding into a full-blown crisis, of which there are far too many in Africa?
When the Trade Bill was passing through this House, the Minister gave a number of assurances that human rights issues would be an integral part of the Government’s future trade policy. So, these questions are valid ones, and I hope he will be able to answer them. In April, we heard that there had been no discussion of human rights in the context of the UK-Turkey negotiations, despite the prevalence of such problems in that country. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s replies to this debate and, in the light of that, decide whether to support the Motion to Regret which I am minded to do.
My Lords, it is a privilege to participate briefly in this debate, and to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Indeed, all the contributions show a great deal of expertise, to which I do not aspire to in relation to Cameroon or Ghana, but which has been fascinating to listen to, not least that of my noble friend, Lord Bellingham, from his ministerial experience there and otherwise.
In my first point, I echo that we do want to operationalise the Ghana agreement; we want to develop our trade with Ghana. Indeed, part of the SDG approach is to use our overseas development assistance to Ghana to help it increase the diversity of its economy, not least in terms of the value chain, so it is not wholly dependent on tourism and commodity exports.
I am grateful to noble Lords for enabling these debates to take place. The International Agreements Committee, of which I am a member, did not report these agreements for the special attention of the House, but for information, so it is by virtue of these Motions that we can debate them.
Where Cameroon is concerned, the agreement highlights that we are in a developing situation with our trade policy. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, is right: we do need to understand, set out clearly and make more predictable, our human rights approach in relation to trade policy. I would, however, advise caution. I do not think that because the American Government withdrew unilateral preferences from Cameroon that means that we should not have entered into an economic partnership agreement with Cameroon. It is in our interest to build the overall scope of trade with Cameroon. Unilateral preferences are a different thing. I am looking forward to being able to look at the Government’s consultation on a review of the generalised scheme of preferences because there we can take a somewhat more direct approach to those who are the beneficiaries of unilateral preferences and withdraw those preferences where there are systematic abuses of human rights and labour rights and in a number of other circumstances.
We then also need to understand how we are using our influence in economic partnership agreements to improve human rights. The Minister’s letter, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred, said that the Minister for Africa was in Cameroon and talked to the President on
My Lords, I declare an interest as an emeritus board member of Vital Voices Global Partnership. I welcome my noble friend Lord Grantchester’s regret Motion on the economic partnership agreement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Cameroon. I further regret that there has not been full parliamentary scrutiny of and interviews on this matter.
I am surprised that the Minister for Trade—the right honourable Liz Truss, who is also the Minister for Women and Equalities—has agreed to this agreement when we know how women are treated in Cameroon. They are treated as third-rate citizens, receive no respect and are imprisoned. They are just appallingly treated; the present leadership has treated women disgracefully. The leader of the opposition party, Kah Walla, has been to this country a number of times and has had meetings with both the Government and the Opposition over the last 10 years.
A group of prominent women leaders recently had an article in Bloomberg urging the IMF to halt talks on a proposed new loan because of the Government’s alleged misuse of funds intended to fight the pandemic. The IMF is very concerned about what has happened with the previous funding for the pandemic; this is echoed by Human Rights Watch. An audit by a supreme court body found corruption and mismanagement involving $326 million. In a letter to the IMF, 21 Cameroonian leaders demanded that the IMF withhold further money until there is clarification on how the money was spent.
Kah Walla, the leader of the opposition I mentioned earlier, asked for clarity on the funds and for a full audit. I know her extremely well; we have worked together for many years through Vital Voices Global Partnership, supported by Vital Voices, and she has raised these questions of human rights in Cameroon not only with our Government but with the EU, the UN and the American Government. The American Government are certainly very concerned about the situation in Cameroon. If the Government are considering doing a trade deal with this country—a country that does not respect human rights and has been found guilty of corruption—we need to have full scrutiny.
In May 2021, the House of Commons International Trade Committee wrote to the Government asking what consideration had been given to withdrawing funds due to human rights violations in the country. The Government have yet to respond. The House of Lords International Agreements Committee has raised concerns over serious human rights abuses. It also noted that the US withdrew its trade preferences under the African opportunities Act and that the Government have not consulted fully with the devolved Administrations, the dependencies and Gibraltar.
I am delighted to contribute to this debate and to follow the noble Baroness. I agree with all the speakers who called on us to trade with, as well as give aid, to Africa and other countries; it is very important to do so. I would like to ask a couple of questions relating largely to the Ghana agreement and ask about a wider point made in the report from the International Agreements Committee on the two agreements.
Do the Government intend to seek a future trade agreement with the Economic Community of West African States to support regional integration in west Africa and is there a timetable in which to do so?
I would like to ask about bananas because I understand that banana exports, particularly to Belgium, the UK and France, are extremely important. I know I have berated my noble friend on a number of agreements and said they have been asymmetrical; I recall the Faroes agreement with the UK. However, in this case we export more goods to Ghana than we import. On banana exports, I understand that since
Finally, I would like to ask a question on an issue that was raised on a number of occasions during the passage of what is now the Trade Act through Parliament and in debates on previous agreements and EPAs. The report states:
“The Explanatory Memorandum … to the Agreement explains that Ministers and officials engaged with the Devolved Administrations … on a regular basis throughout the Trade Agreement Continuity Programme and invited them to ‘highlight international agreements of importance or concern’.”
In this regard, can the Government confirm that there was a discussion with the devolved Administrations in the context of the two EPAs, particularly the one with Ghana? Were any significant issues of concern raised by the devolved Administrations? How were they addressed? Alternatively, can they confirm that no significant concerns were expressed?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and to contribute to this debate. I commend both the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Purvis, for securing these debates regarding the new trade agreements with Ghana and Cameroon.
I support the Motion to Regret in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on the trade deal with Cameroon on the basis that there has been a lack of thorough impact assessment for these deals and the issue around human rights abuses. I agree that trade with third-world countries is important, as is a substantial overseas aid budget, which should not have been reduced. There is a need to ensure that we have full parliamentary scrutiny for these trade deals and that we examine fully where there have been human rights abuses. I recall that we raised these issues during the passage of the Trade Bill through your Lordships’ House last autumn.
Some key issues have emerged in relation to these trade deals which focus on impact assessments and scrutiny, human rights abuses, regional trade and rendezvous clauses. In relation to impacts assessments and scrutiny, there has been a lack of thorough impact assessments for these deals. Can the Minister ensure that, whatever changes have taken place, there is scrutiny and accountability before these deals are fully implemented? We should remember that there has been no parliamentary scrutiny despite their importance for developing partners.
The International Trade Committee in Parliament asked the Government to consider withdrawing trade preferences from Cameroon in the light of the human rights abuses in the country. The deal includes references to human rights, outlining a process for dealing with such abuses. There has been violence in the anglophone regions of Cameroon as a result of the Government forces’ large-scale security operations, and attacks from armed separatists. Apparently, this has included the burning of villages, the use of live ammunition against protesters, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, sexual abuse and killing of civilians, including women, children and the elderly, by government forces.
Another area of concern is the rendezvous clauses, which mean that specific issues are scheduled for future negotiations. Can the Minister in summing up indicate what action will be taken to address the lack of accountability and scrutiny, along with the level of human rights abuses, before these deals are ratified?
My Lords, before addressing my remarks on our interim trade agreement with Ghana, I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and other noble Lords about the ongoing human rights abuses against the anglophone separatists by the Cameroonian Government’s forces. That needs to be kept under constant review. The call from the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, Graham Stuart, for inclusive dialogue and an end to fighting in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon has, unfortunately, been falling on deaf ears.
As for Ghana, I have had a long-established relationship with the country, having visited Accra and particularly Kumasi many times. We are all very aware of the enormous opportunities in west Africa, particularly in Ghana, but equally cognisant of the scourge of corruption and lack of accountability and transparency.
Clearly, the interim trade agreement with Ghana, which is worth in excess of £1.2 billion, minimises trade disruption between our respective economies and provides more certainty to businesses and consumers, particularly in agriculture and trade services. I am grateful to the House of Lords Library for its breakdown of the exports and imports of our respective countries, but do not have time to comment on any of the specifics. I agree with all of your Lordships who have commented on the benefits of trade, and particularly this trade agreement, contributing to sustainable growth and poverty reduction in Ghana and providing a platform for greater economic and cultural co-operation.
There is a common need for many of the economies in west Africa to diversify from natural resources, and, in line with ESG, we need to be promoting responsible development in Ghana, not just in energy but infrastructure, health, fisheries, renewables, technology, telecommunications and, of course, agricultural projects, which benefit both the people and the economy. Can the Minister, in winding up the debate, elaborate on our Government’s plans to achieve a trade agreement with ECOWAS which will support regional integration in west Africa, and can he also comment on what assistance our Government are giving to Ghana to help roll out the vaccination programme, the lack of which is so severely stunting economic growth and recovery in the country?
In conclusion, I share the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Grantchester, that these agreements have not been subject to sufficiently detailed scrutiny, but I wholeheartedly support the interim trade agreement with Ghana.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who is an acknowledged expert on Africa. I shall address my comments to the trade deal with Cameroon. I declare my interest in the register as a trustee of the Thin Green Line, a charity devoted to the welfare of wildlife rangers worldwide—and, specifically in this case, in Cameroon. We have heard from other noble Lords about the concerns about human rights issues in Cameroon, and Her Majesty’s Government will no doubt ensure that those are raised at the highest level. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Bellingham said that he raised such issues in private in his distinguished career as Minister for Africa. I also agree with those noble Lords who believe that free trade should be used as a force for good.
I should like to raise something that I think the UK and other countries could be doing in the general area of trade that could reap benefits not just for these African countries but for our planet. It is important for any trade deal to recognise that Cameroon’s rainforest provides important ecosystem services to the world, and to ensure that it does not incentivise deforestation, something that my noble friend Lord Eccles made a historical reference to. Among those ecosystem services from which we all benefit but which none of us pays for is carbon sequestration and storage. The health of Cameroon’s forests and therefore the amount of carbon they sequester and store depends on keystone species such as primates and forest elephants, the latter now recognised as a separate species which is critically endangered, having lost 86% of its population over the past 31 years to the illegal ivory trade.
The International Monetary Fund last year published an estimate of the value of carbon sequestration attributable to each forest elephant as $1.75 million. Similar calculations must be done for other keystone species in other globally important ecosystems. Take apes, for example. Cameroon is home to two sub-species of chimpanzee and two of gorilla, the rarest kind of both apes being endemic to the fragmented forests on either side of the Nigeria-Cameroon border.
The conservation of Cross River gorillas, Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees and the surviving forest elephants with whom they share their habitat has been hampered in recent years by the serious civil unrest that we have been hearing about. Perhaps by recognising and paying for the ecosystem services that they provide us with, we could bring a conservation peace dividend to the people of this part of Cameroon, as well as reducing the loss of biodiversity and helping to prevent dangerous climate change. Until such payment systems are in place, it falls to charities such as the Thin Green Line Foundation and other members of the Ape Alliance to help local NGOs and community rangers protect these natural gardeners of the forest. These rangers have a precarious and very dangerous job, and we must support them in every way that we can.
Trade should be a positive force for good. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will exert their considerable influence for not only human rights, which are incredibly important, but ecosystems and species, which are also very important and benefit us all. Let us hope that this particular agreement will accelerate this.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Purvis of Tweed, for tabling this debate. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the UK-Ghana Interim Trade Partnership Agreement and the UK-Cameroon Economic Partnership Agreement.
I thank all those who have contributed to this debate, and I will try to respond to the many insightful and well-informed points that have been raised, most latterly by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I will write to noble Lords on points that I am not able to deal with—for example, points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, regarding diagonal cumulation, and the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. I can immediately let my noble friend Lord Lansley know that a consultation will be launched on our planned improvements to the GSP.
First, allow me to set out this Government’s vision for the UK as a newly independent trading nation. We are pursuing an ambitious programme of free trade agreement negotiations to support our vision of an outward-facing, opportunity-embracing global Britain. This includes securing continuity for our most important development-focused agreements, such as those that we have agreed with Cameroon and Ghana. I welcome my noble friend Lord Bellingham’s support in this area.
Turning to these two agreements, we know that trade is a key driver of economic growth which can help raise incomes, create jobs and lift people out of poverty. It is therefore excellent news that the agreements we have secured with Ghana and Cameroon provide continued tariff-free access to the UK market. This encourages export-led growth, supporting and creating jobs in Ghana and Cameroon, which is so important. Of course, this also creates opportunities for UK firms and consumers.
Turning to parliamentary scrutiny of these agreements, I note that Parliament scrutinised the previous EU agreements with Ghana and Cameroon when they were negotiated. I respectfully remind the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, of this. Furthermore, we have both met and gone beyond the statutory requirements of the CRaG, providing comprehensive information to Parliament. For example, we provided detailed parliamentary reports which outlined the approach taken to negotiations, explained any significant differences from the EU agreements and provided analysis of their economic impact.
We established a bridging mechanism with Cameroon to ensure continuity in trade preferences between our countries, avoiding any disruption that otherwise would have occurred. The Trade with Cameroon GOV.UK page was updated on
I will say a few words regarding consultation with devolved Administrations on these agreements, in the hope that I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. In addition to regular updates across all continuity agreements, the texts of both the Ghana and Cameroon agreements were shared with the devolved Administrations once negotiations were completed. We lead a comprehensive programme of engagement on trade policy with the devolved Administrations, as well as the administrations of the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. These engagements are necessarily confidential, which is why we do not give details—but they do support our commitment to deliver trade agreements that will benefit every corner of our country.
I turn to the very real concerns that have been expressed regarding human rights abuses in Cameroon. I can assure the House that the Government are closely monitoring the crisis within Cameroon and share noble Lords’ concerns, as expressed for example by my noble friend Lord Eccles, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, and others.
I can reassure my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, that the UK’s relationship with Cameroon allows us to have candid discussions on these issues. In March, the Minister for Africa travelled to Cameroon and made our position very clear in meetings with President Biya, Prime Minister Ngute and Foreign Minister Mbella Mbella.
We continue to call for an inclusive dialogue and an end to fighting in the north-west and south-west regions. We do this in direct conversations with the Government of Cameroon and in multilateral fora. We have urged the Government of Cameroon to work with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and called for investigations to hold perpetrators to account. We have always been clear that increased trade will not come at the expense of our values and that beneficial growth and support for democratic principles are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as we know, more prosperous countries tend to be more secure and peaceful.
By encouraging trade, we believe that we can offer a hand up to those most in need, by creating the opportunities and employment they need to rise out of poverty. Agricultural industries are a huge employer for rural communities in Cameroon, with 12% of Cameroon’s banana exports landing in the United Kingdom. This agreement demonstrates the UK’s commitment to economic stability and opportunity in Cameroon. By encouraging trade, this agreement prevents disruption to the livelihoods of Cameroonians working in these sectors and provides valuable employment. We fervently believe that trade, coupled with unconstrained dialogue about human rights, is the best way forward. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, on this.
I note, of course, the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and others, regarding the US action with Cameroon. The EPA replicates the effect of the previous EU agreement that was in force between the EU and Cameroon at the time of the UK-EU transition period—and, indeed, still is. I do not think it has been recorded during this short debate that the EU stance on these matters is very close to ours and we regularly discuss this crisis with US counterparts and are united in calling for the violence to end and for further dialogue.
On trade with Ghana, the UK made every endeavour to avoid any gap in continuity of Ghana’s duty-free access to UK markets. However, doing so was not entirely within our gift. We had long sought to conclude an agreement with Ghana on the same terms as the agreement that it had with the EU. However, despite our consistent attempts, it chose not to engage in talks with us on this basis for over a year.
I say in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, that the Government could not use a bridging mechanism to maintain Ghana's duty-free quota access during this period, as negotiations on the agreement were still ongoing. I am nevertheless pleased that, once meaningful engagement was established, both sides worked at great pace, concluding negotiations in record time and minimising disruption to trade.
Turning to future trade with the west African region, I shall pick up points made by the noble Lords, Lord Boateng and Lord St John of Bletso, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. The UK is very supportive of regional integration. The UK’s agreement with Ghana, as well as with Côte d’Ivoire—both ECOWAS members—includes provisions taken from the relevant EU agreements on working towards a future trade agreement with the west Africa region. We look forward to discussing this prospect further with our west African partners as we develop our trading relationship. We are already expanding our trade relationship with countries such as Nigeria through our economic development forum.
To conclude, the UK’s trade agreements with Ghana and Cameroon reduce tariffs for businesses and pave the way for further economic growth as the world builds back better from Covid-19. Without these agreements, Ghana and Cameroon would have been left behind while other partners continued to benefit from preferential access. Of course, this was an unacceptable outcome for the UK.
I reiterate my thanks to the committee for its examination of these agreements. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, to withdraw his Motion.
I have listened carefully to all the contributions expressed in this debate on scrutiny and trading arrangements. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Lansley, for speaking as Members of your Lordships’ committee that examined these agreements, and I thank the committee for its report. The remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham, with his experience, were particularly pertinent. The contrast between Ghana and Cameroon and their agreements has been interesting and I thank the Minister for the attention that he has given in his replies.
The debate signals the importance of getting scrutiny right in every circumstance. In this deal, adding further areas of negotiation to the deal after it has been signed raises questions about how it can be effectively scrutinised and how the Government can be held to account. This has been a very useful occasion for the House to gain experience in debates on international trading arrangements following Brexit.
I do not raise the matter of voting against one of the Government’s trading agreements lightly. However, given the outcome of the Biya regime, it is of great regret that the Government have not treated this element of an international trade agreement with the seriousness it deserves. The Motion has certainly produced a mixed response. However, to underline that this is a Regret Motion, we must underline our commitment to the most stringent levels of scrutiny with a vote, and I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 228, Noes 239.