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Trade Policy: Environmental Aspects

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 23 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have held with representatives of environmental organisations about the environmental aspects of government trade policy.

My Lords, the Government have met regularly with a range of environmental organisations throughout the development of trade policy via advisory groups, ministerial round tables and individual meetings with industry bodies, regulators and think tanks. More trade should not come at the expense of the environment. Instead, trade policy can support clean growth and environmental innovation. We remain firmly committed to upholding our high environmental standards and will continue to talk to environmental groups throughout trade negotiations.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but the Government’s recent pronouncements, particularly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, seem to move away from trade with Europe towards trade with countries much further away geographically. As far as trade in goods is concerned, that is bound to mean more air miles and more fuel-consuming, polluting ocean voyages. Does the Minister not agree that it makes environmental sense to trade more with our nearest neighbours in the future and not less? What environmental assessment of this have the Government made and will he share it with Parliament?

My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Baroness about any assessment. But I can say—this is really important—that we in this country believe that we have enormous potential for low-carbon exports of goods and services, which we have estimated to be between £60 billion and £170 billion by 2030. As I said in my earlier Answer, we can have more trade, but it needs to be through the prism of a low-carbon, circular economy. That is what we seek to do. Yes, we want a substantial and positive free-trade negotiation with our friends and partners in the EU, but we also think that, given the dynamic of our economy and that our low-carbon economy is increasing, there is merit in having trade negotiations in parallel with other parts of the world. We should see that as positive for the environment.

My Lords, as the Minister will know, this weekend a pioneering citizens’ assembly will start work, supported by six Select Committees. What steps will be taken to ensure that its work in examining the measures necessary to achieve net zero-carbon emissions will be properly monitored by the Government, particularly by those Ministers responsible for the very important forthcoming trade negotiations?

Clearly Defra, BEIS and the Department for International Trade have very strong collaborative working. It is absolutely essential that we recognise the climate emergency and the need to enhance the environment. The environment Bill, which will eventually come to your Lordships’ House, will propose the establishment of the office for environmental protection; this will be an independent means of holding public authorities in this country to account to ensure that binding targets and so forth are adhered to. We should be very positive about what we are seeking to do in this country—we are one of the highest-ranking countries for both environmental and climate change performance.

My Lords, it was reported in the papers two or three weeks ago that the European Union is considering a proposal to impose tariffs or restrictions on trade with countries that do not meet their Paris INDCs. Does the Minister think that, particularly ahead of the COP 26 in Glasgow this year, the UK, as part of its contributions to the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, might consider a similar measure in thinking of new trade relationships?

My Lords, this is an area that we obviously all need to consider globally. It is interesting that our country is ranked seventh out of 61 countries on the climate change performance index, in comparison with the EU 28, which is ranked 22nd. We should be very clear about our direction of travel. We reduced emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2018, yet the economy has grown by 75% in that period.

My Lords, I understand the concern but, when it comes to the influence of energy and climate on trade, has not the European Union energy market and energy policy so far led, regrettably, to more coal-burning and an increase in the use of Russian gas? Are those the kind of levels that we want to stay down at? Surely not.

My noble friend has probably given part of the reason why we are at our current position and the EU 28 is 22nd. It is because we are one of the most successful low-carbon economies —in fact, we are the most successful in the G7. That is the direction of travel which I think will see our country become ever more prosperous.

My Lords, following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, what conditions relating to the low-carbon economy will Her Majesty’s Government impose in any trade deal with the United States of America?

We will obviously want to retain all our environmental standards—our food safety and other standards—both in our own production and in that coming via imports, because we want to be one of the world-leading countries with a successful green economy. Clearly, we will not compromise on those standards in our trade negotiations.

My Lords, the Minister will be very aware of biosecurity—I welcome his work in this area—the absence of which could be one of the greatest threats to our environment and our future biodiversity. One area of concern is ballast water for ships on international trade. In 2017, the International Maritime Organization greatly tightened up the regulations governing ballast water, yet I understand that the Department for Transport has not put any resource into implementing that decision. Will the Minister have a word with his DfT colleagues and make sure that this happens?

The noble Lord hits on an important part of what we need to do. We are working on this; I have already had discussions with the Department for Transport, and I will continue to do so. We are very clear about the importance of this issue. One of the chief areas I am concerned about is invasive species, which is one of the key five environmental problems. What the noble Lord has said is extremely helpful.

My Lords, the Government have said repeatedly that they do not intend to water down the UK’s high environmental, welfare and food safety standards. It is a mantra that we all understand but, of course, the President of the United States and others have different views on all this. We need more certainty. Can the Minister clarify which Bill will be used specifically to confirm that commitment, and what is the timetable for putting it on the statute book? We need that certainty.

My Lords, as has been said, the Trade Bill is coming back before Parliament in this Session; that will be the opportunity for Parliament to give due consideration to this issue. It is important, as I have said and will continue to say, and your Lordships will perhaps not have to wait long to see the bona fides of what we have been saying: we have a good reputation and we want to enhance it. That is what is really important and in the national interest. We can be ever more prosperous by being a leading beacon for a low-carbon economy.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us when we will provide shore power for merchant ships and ferries which are involved in trade with our nation? This would have huge environmental benefits for us, rather than leaving them running their diesel generators when alongside.

On transport statistics, again, this is an area where we all need to change the way we do things. We need to concentrate on ensuring that there is greater infrastructure, research and innovation. I will take this point back, because the maritime industry, and perhaps even the Royal Navy, will need to consider how to work together to ensure we get our net zero.