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Economic Partnership Agreements

Volume 631: debated on Thursday 23 November 2017

4. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of revising the basis of economic partnership agreements better to incorporate the aims of the UN sustainable development goals. (902504)

We are guided by a desire to seek continuity first of all in our trading relationships with developing countries as we leave the European Union, and that includes economic partnership agreements. Our EPA partner countries have already welcomed that commitment. The UK is of course fully committed to promoting and delivering the sustainable development goals and is the first and only G7 country to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas development assistance.

Given that countries such as Nigeria and Uganda have refused to sign the economic partnership agreements because they do not believe that they are beneficial and in their long-term interest, how does the Secretary of State intend to address those issues, and is he considering GSP—the generalised scheme of preferences—or GSP plus?

We have already announced that we will be transitioning the full preference scheme of the European Union, including all the categories; that includes GSP and GSP plus. I am surprised if the hon. Gentleman is opposed to our transitioning the EPAs because, as you well know, Mr Speaker, UK imports worth around £290 million from the developing world were imported last year using the EPAs, and they would otherwise have had to pay a higher tariff to enter the UK.

Although the EPAs in Africa are working in the south, they are working less well in the east and west. Is the Minister working with his colleagues in the Department for International Development to look at inter-African trade, rather than trade with what is a declining market sector—Europe—compared with the rest of the world?

We have had very successful talks. The Secretary of State was in South Africa just a couple of months ago and in Ethiopia recently. We are engaging very closely with Africa and with DFID Ministers, including the Minister for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). In a joint statement, we have agreed to seek to transition the Southern African Development Community’s EPA and, last week, we signed an agreement to seek to transition the Caribbean Forum’s EPA as well.

11. Economic partnership agreements have faced intense criticism both from the very countries that they are intended to help and from experts and academics across Europe. Will the Minister consider introducing a sunset clause into the rolled-over EPAs so that new and better agreements can eventually be negotiated? (902511)

These are agreements that are being transitioned. The purpose here is to take an agreement that is already in place and to make sure that it continues to be in place after we leave the European Union. Of course we are in constant dialogue with our developing world partners, and we are open to improving those preferential arrangements in the future if that is deemed to be in the interests of the developing countries.

Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) and the noble Lord Hague, in 2013, the UK Government were the first to publish a national action plan on business and human rights. Will the Minister give a commitment that human rights impact assessments will be undertaken before any new trade deal is signed and that any new trade deal will also include provision for enforcement of human rights?

Of course the UK remains absolutely committed to universal human rights. We have a strong track record of supporting human rights across the world. Safeguarding, promoting and defending human rights is an integral part of government and human rights and prosperity of course are mutually supportive. As part of transitioning EU arrangements, we will be maintaining a similar approach to human rights commitments in UK trade policy.