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Human Rights: Trade Agreements

Volume 681: debated on Thursday 8 October 2020

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on the inclusion of human rights clauses in future trade agreements. (907226)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on the inclusion of human rights clauses in future trade agreements. (907235)

To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade, what recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (907261)

This Government have a strong history of promoting our values globally. Although our approach to agreements will vary between partners, our strong economic relationships allow us to have open discussions on a range of issues, including human rights. We will not compromise our high standards in trade agreements.

The Government have listed 20 countries and one trading bloc where negotiations are ongoing about rolling over existing EU trade deals beyond 31 December. Are human rights part of those discussions? Will the Minister guarantee the inclusion of human rights clauses in any eventual deals reached with those countries?

We have been absolutely clear throughout the continuity trade deal programme that there will be no diminution of UK standards, and that also applies to human rights. We will make sure that our strong, proud record on human rights—we are a world leader in ensuring and guaranteeing human rights—continues throughout all the continuity trade programme.

The UN group of experts has concluded that all parties in Yemen, including the Saudi coalition, are violating international law on an ongoing and consistent basis and that countries such as the UK, which are selling arms for use in the conflict, are showing a blatant disregard for the violations. Can the Minister explain why the independent panel of experts is wrong and he is right?

Some of this is subject to ongoing legal proceedings, but I remind the hon. Lady that we discussed this at some length last month in the House in an urgent question, which I answered. May I also remind her that, at all times, we follow the consolidated criteria, which provide a robust framework by which we assess export licence applications?

China is the largest cotton producer in the world, with 84% of the cotton coming from the Xinjiang region. The entire global clothing industry is tainted with forced Uyghur labour, and the UK is no exception. In the light of that, does the Minister agree that we cannot put trade above human rights, and will he outline what steps his Department is taking to ensure that human rights concerns are considered during bilateral trade negotiations between the UK and China?

We are absolutely clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. Indeed, there is a very strong positive correlation between free trade and human rights through the world. On Xinjiang, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been absolutely robust in our criticism, our condemnation, of what has been happening to the Uyghurs in the province. I reiterate that today, while reminding the hon. Gentleman that we are not negotiating a trade deal with China.

I am sure that the whole House has been encouraged by the Minister’s warm words on human rights, but let us test them with a specific example. I understand from the high commissioner of Cameroon that virtual negotiations on UK’s roll-over agreement are taking place as we speak, the first such negotiations in more than a year. Perhaps the Minister will update us on those talks and on any side discussions on the attendee development. For the purposes of this question, can he tell us whether his intention going into those negotiations is to assert a full essential elements human rights clause into the roll-over agreement with Cameroon rather than the current obsolete cross-reference to Cotonou? If so, how does he plan to enforce that clause effectively? Is it by penalising the Biya Government for their continued human rights abuses or, preferably, to persuade them to stop those abuses in future?

I thank the right hon. Lady for that question. She is referring, of course, to the Cotonou agreement, which is shortly to expire. There are two things to take away from this. The first is the importance of keeping the continuity of our trading relations with Cameroon. That is very important for the Cameroon economy overall. Secondly, we continue to raise at every level with Cameroon our concern about human rights, both across the country in general and those affecting the anglophone community in the south-west of the country. On the deal itself, there will be no diminution in the human rights clauses of the existing EU deal, which I think is what she is seeking to criticise.