I agree that Parliament should be able to scrutinise trade policy and free trade agreements, it has an important role in debating and scrutinising the Government’s domestic and foreign policies.
The Government has made a number of important steps in enhancing Parliamentary scrutiny of trade policy. This includes sharing extensive and comprehensive information with Parliament ahead of negotiations with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Public consultations have and will continue to be held prior to negotiations to inform the Government's approach. Ministers have also published their negotiating objectives prior to the start of trade talks and held open briefings for MPs and Peers. Regular updates are provided to Parliament on the progress of negotiations and Ministers at the Department for International Trade will also be engaging closely with the International Trade Committee and the Lords International Agreements Committee as negotiations progress.
Trade agreements cannot by themselves make changes to our domestic law. Any legislative changes required as a result of trade agreements are subject to the separate scrutiny and approval of Parliament in the usual ways.
Under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, Parliament can also effectively veto trade agreements by resolving against ratification of a treaty indefinitely.
Food Standards & Animal Welfare
The manifesto I stood on was clear that in all our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. Ministers remain firmly committed to upholding these standards outside of the EU and you may already be aware that the EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions, including existing import requirements, onto the UK statute book.
It is important to remember that the UK needs the freedom to negotiate deals on a case-by-case basis and imposing an outright blanket ban on imports that do not meet UK production standards is not the right way to support our farmers. This would be unprecedented in global trading. To insists that agricultural imports under any trade deal would have to be produced to the UK’s environmental protection, animal welfare, food safety and plant health standards can, on the face of it, appear to be reasonable. However this has the potential to lead to a number of unintended consequences. As an example, it wouldn’t make sense to require trading partners with certain climates or environments to meet UK requirements on nitrate vulnerable zones, which are specifically adapted to UK conditions.
It would be extremely unlikely that trading partners would agree to all requirements and in some cases, it might not even be possible for them to do so. We import bananas from many countries including the Dominican Republic, Belize and Cameroon. We import coffee from Indonesia, Ghana and Vietnam and black tea from Kenya. We do all this under existing rules and there is no need to require all these countries to have processes in place to show that they meet thousands of pages of UK domestic environmental and animal welfare legislation. The cost would be prohibitive and also unnecessary and imports would be banned from pretty much all developing countries.
I believe we should be pragmatic. The detail is complex so we shouldn’t tie the hands of our trade negotiators with blunt legislation, but rather we should examine in detail whether we support what they are proposing.
I can assure you that during trade negotiations the Government will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards. Without exception, all animal products imported into the UK under existing or future free trade agreements from all trading partners, including the EU and others, will have to meet our stringent food safety standards, as they do now. These standards have been built up over many years and have the trust of the public and the world. The Government will not adjust those standards to secure trade deals. The standards will be based on science and decided by the UK alone.
I want to see a vibrant and resilient farming sector in the UK, and the UK’s newfound status as an independent trading nation has the potential to bring huge benefits to our farming industry, including our family-run farms. Indeed, new free trade agreements could lead to gains for UK agriculture. For example, analysis by the Department for International Trade shows that an agreement with the US would strengthen UK farmers’ incomes.
Opening the vast US market could help boost UK farmers’ incomes and reduce their input costs, making them more competitive, more productive, and more profitable. Locally, there are potentially big advantages of opening up new markets for Welsh lamb and putting in place new arrangements that will be in the best interests of the Welsh agriculture industry which could have significant benefits for Delyn.
An agreement with the US could lower tariffs on products, including beef and cheese, creating new export opportunities for the UK’s high-quality producers. You may be interested to know that the National Sheep Association recently stated that a free trade agreement with the US would benefit sheep farmers in all parts of country by creating new opportunities and driving demand.
Prices for premium products also tend to be higher in the US, so improved access will allow UK farmers to obtain high prices for their quality produce. It is also worth noting that the US has relatively high costs of production compared to the UK. As an example, US beef is currently 6 per cent more expensive than EU beef.
In addition, I strongly welcome the agreement of a UK-Japan free trade agreement. As well as securing tailored benefits and additional market access for UK businesses trading with Japan, this deal has also secured 70 geographical indications for iconic British food and drink products such as English sparkling wine and Welsh lamb. These protections outstrip those found in the EU-Japan FTA and set a powerful example for an innovative UK trade policy built on high food standards.
I am pleased that the Government is engaging with the agricultural sector, including the National Farmers Union, as part of its trade discussions. The government has established the Trade and Agriculture Commission as well as trade advisory groups, ensuring that British farmers, businesses, and consumers will play a central role in the nation’s trade policy.
It is welcome that the Government has extended the Trade and Agriculture Commission and will place it on a full statutory footing in the Trade Bill, giving farmers a stronger voice in UK trade policy. The Commission will produce a report to be laid in Parliament on the impact on animal welfare and agriculture of each new free trade deal signed after the end of the transition period. This will allow Parliamentarians access to independent and expert advice when reviewing the impact of each trade deal.
I cherish our National Health Service and its guiding principles: that it is universal and free at the point of need. The Government has been repeatedly clear that the NHS will never be on the table in any trade agreements and this is a position I fully support. I welcome the Government’s clear and absolute commitment that the NHS will be protected in any future trade agreement. Indeed, the price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table and nor will the services the NHS provides. This was a commitment in the manifesto on which I stood.
While private providers do play a small role in improving the provision of health care, let me be abundantly clear: the Government will never privatise the NHS.
The NHS is something to be valued and protected which is why I support the commitment to properly funding the NHS. Since 2010 the NHS budget has increased every year, and I am happy to say that despite challenging financial circumstances, the annual budget of the NHS is being increased by £33.9 billion in real terms by 2023/24.
Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership
The UK is once again an independent trading nation and is forging new relationships with countries around the world and we have formally requested to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The £9 trillion free trade area currently includes major countries such as Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand as well as emerging markets such as Mexico, Malaysia and Vietnam. UK trade with the group was worth £111 billion in 2019 and has been growing by 8 per cent a year since 2016. The UK’s accession to the Partnership could see the group’s share of global GDP rise to 16 per cent.
Joining the Partnership would remove tariffs on 95 per cent of goods traded between membership. A range of industries including food and drink and the automotive sector would benefit from tariff reductions. The Partnership would also provide new opportunities for tech, data and the services sector supporting businesses and jobs.
Unlike EU membership, the UK would not be required to cede control over its laws, border or money as a signatory to the CPTPP. As part of one of the largest consultation exercises run by the Government in 2018, views on acceding to the CPTPP were sought and these are now informing preparations. Further engagement with businesses and civil society will continue.
The UK will only join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or agree to trade deals, on terms that are in the UK’s interests and domestic priorities. The Government has been repeatedly clear, the NHS and the price it pays for drugs will not be on the table. No future trade agreement will be allowed to undermine the guiding principle of the NHS: that it is universal and free at the point of need.