Review of free trade agreements

Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:30 pm on 30 January 2018.

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“(1) The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a review of the operation and impacts of each free trade agreement to which this Act applies.

(2) Each such review shall be laid before Parliament no later than ten years from the day on which the agreement comes into force.

(3) A further review of the operation of each agreement shall be laid no later than ten years after the day on which the previous such review was laid before Parliament.

(4) Each review shall be conducted by a credible body independent of government and shall include both qualitative and quantitative assessments of the impacts of the agreement, including as a minimum—

(a) the economic impacts on individual sectors of the economy, including, but not restricted to—

(i) the impacts on the quantity and quality of employment,

(ii) the various regional impacts across the different parts of the UK,

(iii) the impacts on small and medium-sized enterprises, and

(iv) the impacts on vulnerable economic groups;

(b) the social impacts, including but not restricted to—

(i) the impacts on public services, wages, labour standards, social dialogue, health and safety at work, public health, food safety, social protection, consumer protection and information, and

(ii) the government’s duties under the Equality Act 2010;

(c) the impacts on human rights, including but not restricted to—

(i) workers’ rights,

(ii) women’s rights,

(iii) cultural rights and

(iv) all UK obligations under international human rights law;

(d) the impacts on the environment, including but not restricted to—

(i) the need to protect and preserve the oceans,

(ii) biodiversity,

(iii) the rural environment and air quality, and

(iv) the need to meet the UK’s international obligations to combat climate change;

(e) the impacts on animal welfare, including but not restricted to the impacts on animal welfare in food production, both as it relates to food produced in the UK and as it relates to food imported into the UK from other countries; and

(f) the economic, social, cultural, food security and environmental interests of those countries considered to be developing countries for the purposes of clause 10 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018, as defined in Schedule 3 to that Act and as amended by regulations.

(5) The elements of the review to be undertaken under (4)(f) must be sufficiently disaggregated so as to capture the full range of impacts on different groups of developing countries, and must include both direct and indirect impacts, such as loss of market share through trade diversion or preference erosion.”—

This would establish a procedure for regular mandatory reviews of the operation and impacts of free trade agreements.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade) 6:45, 30 January 2018

I beg to move, that the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause calls for a process of review to examine the operation and impacts of all free trade agreements to which the Bill applies. Once again, let me make it clear that this applies to those comprehensive free trade agreements that are notifiable under GATT article XXIV and GATS article V. It does not apply to the many other trade agreements that fall under the undefined category of clause 2(2)(b).

We have already pressed for sustainability impact assessments to be conducted in advance of the start of negotiations towards those future UK free trade agreements that do not have a corresponding EU agreement. The new clause calls for there to be a parallel process of review after our free trade agreements have been in force for 10 years, and subsequent reviews every 10 years thereafter, which is essential to see how the agreements have worked and their effects. It will apply to all free trade agreements that fall within the scope of the Bill.

The call for regular reviews mirrors our earlier call for sustainability impact assessments in respect of the sectors to be covered, which would be a full disaggregation of the economic and social impacts of each free trade agreement, including the various regional impacts in different parts of the UK, as well as the impact on human rights, the environment, animal welfare and the interests of developing countries. Although the sustainability impact assessments to be carried out prior to new negotiations are ex ante, the reviews should represent a parallel process as far as possible ex post.

We have resisted the call from some quarters to require the reviews to take place every five years. Although we are keen to ensure regular monitoring of the impacts of any free trade agreements, we believe it will be more effective, given their reach and potential long-term consequences, to undertake fully comprehensive reviews less frequently, although the new clause provides for the option of holding earlier reviews when there is obvious social or economic harm as a result of a particular agreement.

The UK has an opportunity to establish best practice when it comes to the evaluation of international trade agreements. The EU produces annual reports on the workings of free trade agreements and can mandate a specific focus where there are particular concerns. For instance, the EU-Korea free trade agreement requires its annual monitoring reports to focus on sensitive sectors in addition to the standard implementation review. The EU also commissions more comprehensive external evaluations on a less regular basis—a major evaluation of the same EU-Korea free trade agreement is currently being conducted by two independent German institutes. It is examining a wide range of economic, social and environmental impacts of the agreement, including its impact on developing countries.

In addition, many countries have subjected their bilateral investment treaties to a thoroughgoing review in light of problems encountered as a result of the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement clauses in previous treaties. Those reviews have led a number of Governments to question their previous agreements and in some cases to introduce radical alterations to the investment protection regime. Bilateral investment treaties have typically been subject to fixed terms of duration, after which it is possible to terminate them unilaterally, with reduced notice.

The Government will appreciate the wisdom of setting up a longitudinal system so that we can learn from the experience of our free trade agreements. Setting up such a system at the moment when the UK once again reclaims responsibility for trade policy will allow us to build a comprehensive set of data through which to register what has worked best and what still needs to be improved.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade and Investment)

I commend the hon. Lady on an excellent speech and an excellent new clause. Given the mess that the Government have got themselves in over impact assessments—it is making headline news around the world and we are becoming an international embarrassment as a result—does she agree that putting it in legislation that Governments of whatever colour must make proper impact assessments relating to whatever trade deals they have now or in future is absolutely vital?

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady that this is a straightforward example of best practice. We have a unique opportunity to get this right from the outset, and our new clause would allow us to do just that.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

The trade White Paper stated that our future trade policy would be transparent and inclusive, and we are committed to working with Parliament and the wider public to ensure that that is the case. It is important that the potential effects of trade agreements are considered as part of our trade policy, which is why the Government already conduct impact assessments on EU trade agreements where appropriate. However, it is not appropriate to legislate for that requirement in this Bill, which deals only with our existing trade arrangements.

I have to say that the new clause is not particularly well thought through. It calls for a review on each of the 40-plus agreements not just once, but twice. In 10 years —renewable in 20 years—there could be 80 or more reviews of these agreements, most of which are already in operation. Come 2039, the new clause might entail the Government conducting a review of an agreement that by then would already have been in place for 40 years. Therefore, the new clause should be withdrawn; it is not necessary.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

I am struck by how limited the Minister’s ambition is for the UK. As I said in my speech, we have a unique opportunity to get this right and therefore I will press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Division number 33 Caledonian Pinewood Forest — Review of free trade agreements

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 9