International trade agreements: public health services

Part of Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade) 4:15 pm, 25th June 2020

Given the extra protections that new clause 12 would lock into law to keep the NHS safe from future trade agreements’ effectively pushing higher pharmaceutical prices or further marketisation of the NHS, we will happily support the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Dundee East. Indeed, his new clause supplements the protections that amendment 12, had it been agreed to earlier in our proceedings, would have put in place to protect our public services more generally.

We, too, are aware of the leaked documents that the hon. Gentleman referred to, revealing that discussions have already taken place in the UK-US trade talks about possible measures that the American pharmaceutical industry might want, clearly supported by Donald Trump’s chief negotiator, that would effectively push prices up. Given that we have substantially lower pharmaceutical drug costs than the US, the fact that the Americans are continuing to push such measures is profoundly worrying.

Ministers have said that the NHS is not on the table in the UK-US talks and, like the hon. Gentleman, I take that at face value, but it is worth saying that until the text of a trade agreement is published, we will have no way of knowing for sure what is in it. The precedent of the EU-Canada deal does not give reassurance in that respect, as it used the negative list approach to services liberalisation, to which he referred. The Minister will remember the considerable concern that Germany had chosen to add in carve-outs for the whole of its national health service, whereas the UK had not taken such a comprehensive approach.