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Trade Deals: Environmental Standards

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 2 December 2021

8. What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on environmental standards into future trade deals. (904525)

12. What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on environmental standards into future trade deals. (904531)

The Minister claims that environmental protection is a priority in trade negotiations, but that simply does not resonate with the Department’s actions. In the Government’s desperation for a trade deal with Australia, they agreed to water down limited reference to climate change. Australia’s current commitments are consistent with 4° of global warming, far off the international 1.5° target. How is that at all consistent with the Government’s moral commitment to fight the climate emergency?

I am pleased to reassure the hon. Lady that the environment chapter will break new ground for the United Kingdom. Our agreement in principle includes real commitments to work together more closely on a whole host of areas. The truth is that we are leading the world in the area; we were the first country in the world to legislate for net zero, and we will continue in our endeavours to protect our environment for our children and grandchildren.

We cannot claim to have reached genuine net zero as a country, or even to have a plan to do so, until we take into account the impact of our imports on global carbon emissions. Will the Department for International Trade therefore agree to consider the evidence gathered by the Environmental Audit Committee in its inquiry into carbon border taxes? Better still, will the Department initiate an inquiry of its own?

Her Majesty’s Government welcome input from all parliamentary Committees of this House and will always look closely at all recommendations made, but I would highlight examples of how we are actually delivering on the agenda. We are working with countries such as Brazil and others to support how we reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment, through building new dialogues with agricultural producers and consumers through COP26 and beyond. We aim to support those collaborative actions and ultimately to reduce the impact of agriculture on carbon-rich ecosystems such as rainforests. This is an important area and we will continue to work very hard on it.

The UK-Australia agreement in principle marked the first time that Australia had ever agreed to a specific reference to the Paris agreement in a free trade agreement. Does my hon. Friend agree that trade is an effective way of encouraging other countries to bring their environmental protection standards up to the high levels of our own?

I commend my hon. Friend for his research. He is absolutely right: this is an important part of our wider diplomacy. Economic diplomacy is crucial to making sure that we spread British values around the world, including protections for the environment. As economies develop, they will of course want to seek the technologies that we have in this country to decarbonise and improve the quality of life for their people, too.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am also grateful to the Secretary of State for her welcome. I look forward to our debates on the crucial importance of trade to our national economy and, indeed, to promoting our values around the world.

The objective of the New Zealand-led international agreement on climate change, trade and sustainability is to break down global barriers to trade in green goods and services and eliminate the subsidies that are propping up fossil fuel producers. The Secretary of State announced last week that the UK would not be taking part in this crucial initiative. Can the Minister explain why?

I, too, welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his place. He is right—the United Kingdom is not currently considering joining the negotiations on that agreement—but we will continue to work with partners to establish how such plurilateral initiatives can help to support discussions at the World Trade Organisation. We will also continue to work closely with our partners on wider trade and environment matters, both through bilateral dialogue and through multilateral forums. That is how we believe we can secure the best results for not only the British people but the world.

The Government have not made an inch of progress on green trade in any of the bilateral trade agreements signed since 2019, so why should we put faith in that now? The Board of Trade itself has said:

“There are two main ways that trade can accelerate the green transition: liberalising green trade; and reducing market distortions”.

Does the Minister accept that that is exactly what the New Zealand agreement does, and if so, does he not think that now is the time to show global leadership and not to stay on the sidelines?

We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the environment receives the full attention of Her Majesty’s Government, but we will also seek to end other environmentally wasteful practices that arise from other state actors, such as the subsidising of the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing sectors that exist in some countries, and we will press for the successful conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiation. That demonstrates that we are working across a number of areas, not just the one to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.