Implementation of international trade agreements

Part of Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 12:00 pm, 25th June 2020

I think the hon. Gentleman’s timeline—or the timeline of the hon. Member for Harrow West—may be a little incorrect. As it happens, I left the Department on 21 June 2018, which predated that amendment being made. In any case, the context then, which I will explain, was rather different from the context now, and I think it is very desirable that it be five years, not three years, for the reasons that I am about to explain.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding in everything that the hon. Member for Harrow West just said. The power is in large part needed to make technical changes that ensure that the agreements remain operable. The fundamental misunderstanding on his part is that it is not five years extra to complete the negotiations, sign the deals or finish the negotiations—no. It is five years that is needed to make sure the agreements remain operable once they have been signed.

Before I come to the real detail, let me give the hon. Gentleman an update on some of the agreements he asked about. It was interesting to hear him focus on Andorra and San Marino. Those countries are, of course, in a customs union with the European Union.

We are in discussions with both countries, but in our view, they are largely dependent on what the future relationship between the UK and the European Union looks like, for those two countries are in a complete customs union with the European Union.

The hon. Gentleman asked for clarity about Turkey. I was surprised by that question, because I checked his Twitter feed, and he does actually follow me on Twitter, which I do not take as a compliment ordinarily. He must have seen what we put out three hours ago from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade:

“Great to see”—

UK and Turkey—

“trade talks progress today. Let’s build on our already strong trading relationship worth £19bn. We are working hard to ensure we can reach a UK-Turkey trade deal at the end of the transition period.”

He has it right in front of him on his own Twitter feed; I urge him to read it. People mock social media—I might have been critical of social media in my time—but they occasionally perform a useful function. Helping us to keep up to date with what is going on in the world is one of the most useful aspects. So there he has it from just three hours ago.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the so-called temporary agreement with South Korea. It is not a temporary agreement. The agreement includes a review clause after two years, which is a standard feature of many international trade agreements. The review clause states—I am paraphrasing slightly—that if the two parties do not believe it is mutually advantageous to continue the agreement, there is the option not to. That does not mean to say that it is a temporary agreement. All international agreements can be cancelled by one party or the other, if they feel the agreement is no longer mutually advantageous. Of course it leaves open the possibility of doing a more extensive agreement in the future, but that is the case with all trade agreements.

When a country signs an agreement, no one is saying that it will stay in place forever. There may be opportunities in future to extend it into areas of trade that had not been thought of when the original agreement was signed. That is an entirely normal phenomenon. For example, the EU and Mexico have done an enhanced agreement based on their original agreement, which dated from about 2000 or 2002, to bring it up to date. New things come along, such as e-commerce and so on, so of course trade agreements are updated, but it is wrong to describe that trade agreement as temporary.

We are in discussions with Canada, but I return to the points that the hon. Gentleman made on Tuesday. He is so against the Canada agreement that, if there were any delay in the discussions with Canada, he should be cheering that not condemning it, because he is opposed to the agreement in the first place. I thought that would update him on where we are with the agreement.

Let me describe what it is all about. In the case of a transition mutual recognition agreement, we may need to change secondary legislation after the point of signing, and after 1 January 2021, to update the names of awarding bodies and third countries so that UK businesses can continue to use such bodies legally. It is not extra negotiating time. It is extra time to ensure that the agreement remains operable.

Alternatively, where our trade agreements reference international standards, such as environmental protection, we may need to update references in domestic legislation to ensure that we remain in compliance with our international agreements. Equally, a potential use of the power could be to upgrade the list of entities subject to procurement obligations to reflect machinery of government changes.

I used the example last week of DCMS changing its name from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. That name change might need to be reflected to keep one of those agreements operable, so a change in domestic legislation would ensure that the procurement obligations in the agreement are kept operable. It is not extra negotiating time. The power could also be used to update the list of entities subject to procurement obligations, as I have said.

I think there is a misunderstanding of the nature of the power. If Opposition Members had expressed concerns about the breadth of the power—in other words, the ability to carry on amending legislation for many years afterwards—that would be a much more legitimate concern than the professed concern about extra negotiating time. The Bill has been scrutinised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Its 33rd report on the 2017-19 Bill raised no concerns about the delegated powers in the Bill, including the sunset clause, and welcomed our move to introduce the affirmative procedure for any regulations made. I see no reason why it should reach a different conclusion on this Bill.