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New Trade Agreements: Human Rights

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 7 February 2019

1. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of including human rights protections in new trade agreements. (909083)

The United Kingdom has a strong and proud history of promoting our values globally, including on human rights. We are considering all options in the design of future trade agreements, including human rights provisions. We recognise the need to maximise the benefits of trade while being true to our values.

I am one of the 38 Co-operative MPs in this place. We are the third largest party in Parliament and we have a long-standing campaign against modern slavery. There is a particular need to emphasise any safeguards against modern slavery in our supply chains, which is an insidious aspect of international trade. Will the Secretary of State take cognisance of that urgency in ensuring that the scourge of modern slavery is outlawed in our legislation and trade agreements?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me that a party within a party is in fact normal practice in the Labour party—

The hon. Gentleman raises an extraordinarily important point. Modern slavery is far more widespread than is recognised. It is a pernicious, wicked practice and it is something that this Government have taken the lead on internationally. It will certainly be reflected in all the values of this Government, including our trade policy.

11. Scrutiny of our trade deals is vital as we leave the EU. Given the Government’s commitment to an inclusive and fair trade policy, will the Secretary of State seek a debate in this place to talk about the scrutiny of our trade deals? (909096)

On the consultations that we have already had in public on Australia, New Zealand, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership —the CPTPP—and the United States, the Government have a commitment to hold such a debate in the House of Commons. Assuming the agreement of the business managers, I hope that we will have that debate in the House within the next two weeks.

What assessment has the Secretary of State’s Department made of the role of British businesses in tackling abuse and exploitation in global supply chains?

As I said in answer to a previous question, we take such abuses very seriously. This country operates its international trade policy with one of the highest levels of ethics of any country globally, and the Government are always keen to ensure that those ethics are upheld in every way.

Order. It is open to the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) to seek to shoehorn Question 9 into the question with which we are dealing now. It is not obligatory, but his opportunity exists if he wants it, and it looks as though he does.

9. I would be foolish not to accept such a generous offer, Mr Speaker. Fylde is one of the biggest exporters of any constituency in the country and, with Brexit fast approaching, trade deals are more important to the sector than ever. What has been done to ensure that future trade deals are processed with the least possible delay and with the best interests of business in mind? (909093)

In terms of the continuity of our existing agreements, the best way to ensure full continuity is to have a deal. All those who talk about the pitfalls of no deal would do well to remember that in voting against the deal they make those pitfalls all the more likely. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that it is not only trade agreements that are important but trade itself, including trade promotion for our exports, and I congratulate him on the work he has done to promote this country’s interests abroad.

The persecution and mass incarceration of the Uyghur community in the Xinjiang province of China is facilitated by companies such as Hikvision, which manufactures and supplies much of the surveillance equipment that is used there. Hikvision has an expanding presence in this country. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the trade deals that we might have post Brexit will not encourage trade of that nature?

As I have said, any future trade agreements that we have beyond the European Union will be subject to public consultation, to debate in this House and, I hope, to rigorous processes that I may set out in due course about how we can increase scrutiny of those agreements. Members across the House will place different types of emphasis on different constituencies and different sectors of the economy, but I think that the whole House will share those concerns about ethics. I hope that the design of the scrutiny of those trade agreements that I will be able to bring to the House in greater detail soon will give the right hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he seeks.

We all need to remember that the great success of free trade over the last generation has been the truly historic achievement of taking 1 billion people out of abject poverty. That has been the benefit of free trade, and in this era of protectionism we should realise that economic nationalism is a way of rolling back what has been an enormously beneficial human trend.

Two weeks ago, the Joint Committee on Human Rights heard how the Canadian Government had to make a substantial pay-out and issue a public apology to a chemicals company after they were sued for taking a public policy decision to ban a chemical additive to protect human health. The Committee was told that investor-state dispute settlement provisions in trade and investment agreements can

“impact very negatively on human rights.”

Does the Secretary of State recognise that danger? If so, will he rule out such ISDS clauses in future trade agreements? If not, what counter-evidence will he present to the Joint Committee on Human Rights?

I have made clear our concern about human rights, but the idea of banning such agreements is nonsensical. This country has £1.3 trillion of stock overseas. Our investors are important in providing development in a lot of these countries, yet they are not given sufficient legal protections, which they would normally get under systems such as the UK’s. That is why those provisions are put in—to protect our investors overseas.