New clause 15

Part of Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade) 4:30 pm, 25th June 2020

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I rise briefly to suggest to the Committee that once a free trade agreement has been signed in the future, it makes sense to have a point at which to assess the effectiveness of that agreement, perhaps to see how it has worked in practice in terms of British exporters being able to take advantage of it.

Labour Members remember only too well the Government’s decision to axe by some 60% the support to British exporters. So it will be interesting, five years down the line from the publication and signing of these continuity agreements, to see whether such a severe cut has actually meant that many British businesses have been unable to take advantage of the opportunities in a free trade agreement.

The new clause would also give us the opportunity, five years hence, to see whether the genuine concerns of many—both in this House and out—about investor-state dispute mechanisms, if they have been incorporated into agreements, have taken effect. We would be able to see the damage done to environmental protections, the health service, labour rights or human rights—any way in which they might have been affected.

Given the concerns expressed clearly to us about how many of the continuity trade agreements might actually work in practice, it is surely sensible to have the opportunity to review whether those concerns have been borne out in practice. One can think of the Norway continuity agreement, which still has no services provisions for British companies wanting to operate in service markets in Norway. That is still in some doubt, as only the goods part has been resolved. The situation is similar with Switzerland. We raised a series of concerns about the South Korea agreement and the extent to which some agricultural products, such as cheddar cheese and honey, have been affected by poor drafting of that agreement.

Given how we have thrown away some of the great advantages that Britain drew in terms of soft power from the Department for International Development being a stand-alone Department, again it will be interesting to see whether the Ghana and Kenya agreements—I thank the Minister for his letter—have been able to serve their purpose and support not only agricultural sales to the UK, but regional integration in west and east Africa.

For all those reasons, and given the huge concerns about some of the potential measures in free trade agreements, it makes sense surely—it certainly makes sense to us—to have a fixed point, five years down the line after a trade agreement has been signed, to have the opportunity for the Government to publish a full review looking at the impact.