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Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership

Volume 681: debated on Thursday 8 October 2020

We come now to Richard Graham’s question, but he is not here, so I call the Minister on this group of questions.

Pursuing accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership is a Government priority and a key part of our trade negotiations programme. We have engaged with all 11 member countries at both ministerial and official level to discuss UK accession, including the first ever meeting of senior officials between CPTPP members and a non-member on 9 September, and all members have welcome the UK’s interest.

I thank the Minister for the update. However, when the non-partisan Centre for Economic Policy Research assessed the United States accession to the original and similar trans-Pacific partnership trade deal, it concluded that wages might rise for the top 10% of earners but fall for everybody else. What assessment has his Department made of the impact of CPTPP accession on income levels in the UK, and what guarantees can he give that worsening income inequality would not be a consequence here?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that interesting question. I have not seen that study on the original TPP, but I will say two things. First, when the UK applies, we will be publishing a scoping assessment—an impact assessment—looking at how the deal will affect the UK economy. Secondly, liberal-minded, like-minded democracies such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have embraced CPTPP with great enthusiasm, which gives me some encouragement in this space.

It is just not the UK that is seeking to join CPTPP; Thailand, for example, is actively investigating it. Thailand’s faculty of pharmaceutical sciences has assessed that because of the way CPTPP rules on patents and on market approval for generic drugs that impact on Government procurement and so on work, the costs of drugs would rise. Given the Bangkok Post headline that CPTPP would lead to “soaring” drugs bills, what guarantees can the Minister give that a similar rise in the cost of medicines to the NHS, for the same reasons, would not be the consequence here?

Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Nothing in any trade deal prevents us from setting domestic pharmaceutical prices, and that would remain true in respect of CPTPP. Let me have a look at why the Scottish National party is questioning the potential to join CPTPP. I have the feeling that the SNP is just not in favour of any trade agreements; I have had a look at CPTPP members, and the SNP was against doing a deal with Canada, against doing a deal with Japan in Brussels and against doing a deal with Singapore. So I feel that whatever intricate, detailed questions he has on CPTPP, he will not support our joining it.

The Government of Malaysia are delaying ratification of CPTPP because they have become concerned, belatedly, about the impact of the treaty’s provisions on Government procurement and on investor-state dispute settlements. So before our Government go full steam ahead into negotiations to join CPTPP, will the Minister provide an assessment of those provisions for our country?

The UK is a different economy from Malaysia, and the UK has never lost a an investor dispute case through the investor-state dispute settlement. Secondly, Government procurement is a huge opportunity for this country. Just yesterday, we were delighted to see our accession to the World Trade Organisation’s Government procurement agreement, as a sure way to make sure that Government procurement remains open for UK businesses and UK procurers. A bit like the SNP, I have checked the hon. Gentleman’s record on CPTPP and he has opposed doing the deals. He voted against on Singapore, abstained on Japan and even went further than his Labour colleagues in voting against CETA—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—taking effect. A bit like the SNP, he is trying to find fault in an agreement that he has no intention of supporting, at any point.