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Free Trade Agreements: Human Rights

Volume 677: debated on Thursday 18 June 2020

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future free trade agreements. (903448)

The UK has commenced trade negotiations with the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The UK has a strong history of safeguarding human rights and promoting our values globally, and our strong economic relationships with like-minded trading partners allow the UK to open discussions on a range of difficult issues, including human rights. We continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations.

I thank the Minister for his response, but does he agree that the Government’s de-prioritisation of human rights in favour of trade has been exacerbated and highlighted by Brexit, and has been part of a long-running trend dating back to the coalition Government? Pragmatism on human rights has been particularly clear when it comes to the promotion of trade, and there has been a conscious decision not to seek the inclusion of clauses relating to human rights in most of the post-Brexit agreements. The Government have listed 16 countries and trading blocs where negotiations are ongoing about rolling over existing EU trade deals beyond 31 December, so can the Minister tell us whether human rights are part of those discussions, and will he guarantee the inclusion—

Order. It has to be a question, and it has to be fairly short. I am sure the Minister has a grip of what he needs to say.

Let us be absolutely clear: there has been no relaxation or watering down of the UK’s complete commitment to human rights. That is valid right across the Government, including in the Department for International Trade and in trade deals. The hon. Lady referred to the continuity EU agreements. Part of the issue there is that the Cotonou agreement itself is expiring. What we have sought to do is to ensure that the practical outcome of that element of the existing EU trade deal is maintained in the rolled-over deal. That applies to such things as the Andean agreement and other agreements that we have with developing-world countries, ensuring that human rights remain at the core of the agenda and that there is no watering down of the human rights commitments in existing trade agreements.