The Trade Bill, Third Reading

I would like to thank everyone in North Tyneside, who has contacted me, to raise concerns about the Trade Bill, which has its third reading in the House of Commons tonight.  Please see below Labour’s position in regard to the Bill and how I will be voting, with my Party tonight:

The Trade Bill is designed to allow the UK to manage its trade policy independent of the EU after Brexit, including providing for the implementation on a bilateral basis of trade agreements with third countries that we currently enjoy as a member of the EU.  It provides for the UK in its own right to enforce WTO rules on government procurement, or to pursue WTO intervention in international disputes via a newly-established Trade Remedies Authority, where previously these would have been the responsibility of the EU.  It also sets out new powers for the collection and sharing of export data by HMRC, and between the departments and agencies involved in the facilitation of trade via the Channel ports following the Brexit transition period.

Leaving the EU sees competence for entering into trade agreements and international trade conventions returning to the UK, and Labour has no issue in principle with a Bill that provides the legal mechanisms to enable that transition.  We also believe in a trade policy that is transparent and subject to full and meaningful parliamentary scrutiny, and so would have welcomed a Trade Bill that – in particular – provides for proper Parliamentary oversight of the specific trade deals at issue in the Bill, and for the negotiation, implementation or ratification of any future trade deals

With the government actively engaged in negotiations over those future trade deals with the US, Japan and other major economies, we would also have welcomed a Bill that would guarantee in law that these future agreements will not:

This Bill fails all of the above tests, and by failing to address the ‘scrutiny deficit’ that will arise once the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade and the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee become defunct, it leaves us with no means of correcting the failings of future trade deals entered into by the government. Similarly, the new Trade Remedies Authority lacks the stakeholder engagement, independence, or parliamentary oversight and accountability to ensure it will operate transparently and fairly when investigating and challenging practices that distort competition against UK producers, in breach of international trade rules.  This Trade Bill therefore represents a considerable missed opportunity, and sets the bar far too low when it comes to the level of transparency and parliamentary accountability that this and future legislation related to trade should meet.
Labour will be seeking to move two amendments as follows, addressing some of the key issues set out above:

New Clause 11

agreement means any provision whereby a party, if (after the agreement has been ratified) it has unilaterally removed a barrier in an area where it had made a commitment before the agreement was ratified, may not reintroduce that Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

(1)  After IP completion day, agricultural goods imported under a free trade agreement may be imported into the UK only if the standards to which those goods were produced were as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law relating to—

(a)  animal health and welfare,
(b)  protection of the environment,
(c)  food safety, hygiene and traceability, and
(d)  plant health.

(2)  The Secretary of State must prepare a register of standards under UK law relating to—

(a)  animal health and welfare,
(b)  protection of the environment,
(c)  food safety, hygiene and traceability, and
(d)  plant health

which must be met in the course of production of any imported agricultural goods.

(3)  A register under subsection (2) must be updated within seven days of any amendment to any standard listed in the register.

(4)  “Agricultural goods”, for the purposes of this section, means anything produced by a producer operating in one or more agricultural sectors listed in Schedule 1.

(5)  “IP completion day” has the meaning given in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.”

New Clause 17

International trade agreements: health or care services

(1)   Regulations under section 2(1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement only if the conditions in subsections (2) and (3) are met in relation to the application of that agreement in any part of the United Kingdom.

(2)  The condition in this subsection is that no provision of that international trade agreement in any way undermines or restricts the ability of an appropriate authority—

(a)  to provide a comprehensive publicly funded health service free at the point of delivery,
(b)  to protect the employment rights or terms and conditions of employment for public sector employees and those working in publicly funded health or care sectors,
(c)  to regulate and maintain the quality and safety of health or care services,
(d)  to regulate and control the pricing and reimbursement systems for the purchase of medicines or medical devices, or
(e)  to regulate and maintain the level of protection afforded in relation to patient data, public health data and publicly provided social care data relating to UK citizens.

(3)  The condition in this subsection is that the agreement—

(a)  explicitly excludes application of any provision within that agreement to publicly funded health or care services,
(b)  explicitly excludes provision for any Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause that provides, or is related to, the delivery of public services, health care, care or public health,
(c)  explicitly excludes the use of any negative listing, standstill or ratchet clause that provides, or is related to, the delivery of public services, health care, care or public health,
(d)  contains explicit recognition that an appropriate authority (within the meaning of section 4) has the right to enact policies, legislation and regulation which protects and promotes health, public health, social care and public safety in health or care services, and
(e)  prohibits the sale of patient data, public health data and publicly provided social care data.

(4) For the purposes of this section—

“negative listing” means a listing only of exceptions, exclusions or limits to commitments made by parties to the agreement;
“ratchet” in relation to any provision in an barrier, and
“standstill” in relation to any provision in an agreement means any provision by which parties list barriers which are in force at the time that they sign the agreement and undertake not to introduce any new barriers.”

 If they are moved, we will also support amendments from other parties addressing shared issues of concern, as follows:

New Clause 4: ‘Parliamentary approval of trade agreements’: A Tory rebel amendment, which has received significant cross-party back bench support, it would ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, both prior to and during treaty negotiation; it would oblige the government to consult with devolved authorities on the content of draft negotiating objectives and the text of proposed agreements; it would require the government to produce a sustainability impact assessment prior to any agreement of the impact on food safety, health, the environment and animal welfare; and would require them to lay before both Houses a report assessing the compliance of all proposed agreements with primary or subordinate legislation in those areas.

New Clause 7: ‘Import standards’: An SNP amendment, it would prohibit the importation of agricultural and food products that are of a lower standard than those in the UK, but does not go as far as NC11 in that it does not explicitly mention food traceability, safety or hygiene.

New Clause 8: ‘International trade agreements: public health services’: Another SNP amendment put forward by Stewart Hosie MP, it would ensure that the government has a duty to restrict market access to healthcare services, including medicines and medical devices

Assuming these amendments we are supporting do not pass, and given that the government has made no serious attempt to address, let alone resolve, the issues of concern raised by the Commons and the Lords during previous discussion of the Bill, Labour will vote against the Third reading of the Trade Bill.