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Trade Deals: Environmental Standards

Volume 732: debated on Thursday 18 May 2023

We are committed to upholding the UK’s high environmental standards in our trade deals. In our Australia and New Zealand trade deals, for example, we included commitments to preserve our right to regulate, protect the environment, and affirm international environment and climate commitments. We work across Government on environmental matters and utilise international fora to promote our environmental aims.

Trade deals can protect or destroy our natural environment. What the Minister has just said seems to contradict this, but our assessment is that the Government consistently fail to guarantee existing environmental standards in trade deals. For example, they have removed European palm oil tariffs to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said that that could devastate forests, destroy orangutan habitats and fuel climate change. Can he explain why the Government are happy to ignore the environment, and will the Government establish core environmental standards for any new trade deals?

I am disappointed to hear that from the hon. Lady, because we generally agree on a lot of things. We have no intention of weakening environmental standards through trade agreements; in fact, they are often an opportunity to enhance standards through co-operation. CPTPP prohibits parties from waiving, derogating from or failing to enforce environmental laws in order to encourage trade or investment. I am afraid the reality is the exact opposite of what she says.

One opportunity from our joining the trans-Pacific partnership is that it gives the UK a say in different chapters of the partnership, including that on the environment, and the ability to work with Malaysia to ensure the sustainability of its palm oil exports, in exactly the same way that we helped Indonesia shape its regulations and processes for exporting timber. Does the Minister agree that the key to all this is engagement? In that context, does he share my strong enthusiasm for a separate free trade agreement with Indonesia, so that we can work together for the huge benefit of both countries?

I thank my hon. Friend for the amount of work that he does as a trade envoy. We both met our Indonesian friends this week, and the Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) will be visiting Indonesia shortly, so we are certainly building those relationships. We are always keen to look at future opportunities for trade agreements and, outside trade agreements, at enhancing the relationship through a variety of fora, for the very reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) explains. We look forward to continued engagement with Indonesia.