Clause 315 - Dumping, subsidisation and safeguarding remedies

Part of Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 18 May 2023.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 12:00, 18 May 2023

The clause seems quite mild, but it seems to have many implications for the policing of import duties; the prevention of widespread dumping or misuse of products on our markets, which could destroy establishing domestic industries; and the regulation of free trade agreements that we make around the world. Will the Minister give us some indication of how the Trade Remedies Authority changes that are encompassed in clause 315 and schedules 19 and 20 will impact on its independence? From listening to the Minister, it seemed to me that that was one of the most important aspects of the changes, and the Committee needs to understand it as we continue to scrutinise the Bill.

Clearly, a trade remedies body must be independent of those it oversees, so that it is seen as an appropriate body to make decisions that might have serious economic consequences for one side or the other. It is, effectively, a trade judiciary; if it is to be effective, it has to be seen to be independent and widely respected for its independence. The changes made by the clause seem to eat away at some of that. The Minister was talking about different changes to the way in which the authority can pursue its job, including increases in different kinds of information and having to notify Ministers before initiating reviews. It is a quite a big step to put that in legislation, rather than have it as memorandum of understanding. Reading between the lines, that implies that Ministers are not happy with the way in which the Trade Remedies Authority is behaving. Why have the Government decided to put these changes in legislation, rather than in a memorandum of understanding, and why do they think that the Trade Remedies Authority needs to be constrained by law? Is it because there has been a breakdown in the relationship between Ministers and the people who run the authority? Is because there is a lack of trust, or is it simply because Ministers want more direct control over the way in which the authority behaves? That would have implications for the TRA’s independence, and it would certainly have implications for how its independence would be perceived by those wishing to approach it for a jurisdictional reason or for decision making.

I understand why the Minister wants to change the approach taken to Trade Remedies Authority judgments. At present, it is a binary choice, with the judgment either accepted in full or rejected in its entirety, and the Government seem to want to change that. The European Parliament deals with the European Union budget in the same way, and many of us remember how frustrating that rubber-stamp power could be. How will the changes to how the Government can respond to a judgment work in practice? Will the Government and a Secretary of State use their power to go behind the scenes, muscle in on what the TRA has said and try to change the judgment? Will that process be open and transparent, or will it be done behind the scenes, which would put at risk the authority’s independence? Could the Minister put a bit more flesh on the bones of how it is going to work?

Clearly, economic interest tests are important. I wonder why they were not put in place in the first place. Why did the Government set up the Trade Remedies Authority in such an awry way, such that they are now having to return to Parliament to completely change its structures? Is the Minister going to get up and say that a predecessor of hers did not do a very good job in designing it? Why is this change being made so soon after its establishment? This fundamental change to how it works suggests that the Government failed to set it up properly.

Will the Minister say something about the relationship with the World Trade Organisation? I presume that the WTO is staying at the back, as a backstop, and that it can be approached by anyone involved in a dispute who does not accept what is happening. In the end, we remain involved with the WTO, so will she say something about that relationship? Will she also explain whether similar authorities are run in similar ways? The way in which the Government chose to set up the TRA was so off beam that this Bill now has to make major reforms to how it works.