Traidcraft and Fair Trade — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:26 am on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 10:26 am, 18th December 2018

Clearly the right hon. Gentleman has had prior sight of my remarks if he is asking such a perceptive question at this time. I will come to that issue in a moment.

Our immediate priority on leaving the EU is to deliver continuity in our trading arrangements, so that developing-country firms exporting to the UK do not face new and damaging trade barriers—that is one benefit of securing a deal on leaving the EU, rather than no deal, and the Government will determinedly strive for that, as will all Ministers. To that end, we will put in place a UK trade preferences scheme that will, as a minimum, provide the same level of access as the current EU scheme by granting duty-free, quota-free access to 48 least developed countries, and generous tariff reductions to around 25 other developing countries. We will also seek to replicate the effects of the EU’s economic partnership agreements, which are development-focused trade deals with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. We aim to maintain the preferential access to UK services markets for least developed countries that is guaranteed through the LDC services waiver—that, I was pleased to note, is a better deal than the one currently offered through the World Trade Organisation, which is an important consideration.

As well as maintaining preferential trade access for around 100 developing countries, those trade arrangements also embed the principles of inclusive and sustainable trade that Traidcraft and others have long argued for. For example, the UK’s trade preferences scheme will include an enhanced tier similar to that of the EU, which grants special tariff reductions to developing countries in return for progress against ratifying and implementing international conventions on human rights, labour rights, the environment and good governance.

More trade does not have to come at the expense of workers, the environment, human rights or the growth of least developed countries, and the Government firmly believe that it is in everyone’s interest to avoid any kind of race to the bottom on standards. That point was at the heart of the remarks by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston when she asked what more might be included in deals, and my sense is that as these opportunities evolve, we should all press for the highest standards. As I said earlier, we have a minimum baseline, but that is not where the United Kingdom should be. We should be able to operate to higher standards, and we should work through them. My sense is that DFID and the Department for International Trade recognise that and wish to ensure it is the case. There is much work to do for these new agreements, and the House would not be fair if it took the bottom line minimum standard that we “must” have in place as our intention or ambition, because I am sure we will be keen for it to be developed.

The hon. Member for Strangford asked about modern slavery, and I shall say a little more about that. At last year’s UN General Assembly the Prime Minister launched the “Call to Action” to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking, in which specific commitments are set out, to address modern slavery at the national and international level. It has been endorsed by 43 countries[This section has been corrected on 7 January 2019, column 2MC — read correction] so far. On the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development announced a £40 million package of new funding, forming part of the overall £150 million spend that the Prime Minister committed the Government to at the UN. That package of support will help more than 500,000 vulnerable men, women and children, and includes £13 million for the second phase of the work in freedom programme, the UK’s £20 million contribution to the global fund to end modern slavery, and the £7 million of DFID support to Nigeria.

That is all in addition to existing DFID programmes such as the £8 million regional women and girls protection programme operating in Greece and the Balkans, protecting girl and women refugees by providing shelters and strengthening national counter-trafficking mechanisms, and the £22 million1 responsible business programme, which is spreading responsible business approaches. That international strategy, overseen by the Prime Minister’s taskforce, has the aim of driving down slavery in source countries to the UK, and others of high prevalence, and effecting change through multilateral channels.