Her Majesty’s Government formally began negotiations on the UK’s accession to CPTPP on 22 June. Negotiating teams will be working hard over the coming months to ensure a good deal for businesses, producers and consumers across the UK. The UK’s accession would make CPTPP a truly global free trading area and strengthen the UK’s relationship with 11 dynamic economies across four continents.
Taiwan is one of the top 20 trading nations in the world, a vibrant democracy, a member of the WTO and an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation member economy. Could the Minister confirm that the UK welcomes Taiwan’s intention to join CPTPP alongside our own application and update the House on efforts to deepen our bilateral trade ties with Taiwan?
Taiwan is a subject close to my heart, and we know that it is an important and growing trading partner for the UK. It is a highly valued member of the WTO as well. Future membership of CPTPP is a matter for the members at that time, but I note that Taiwan is looking to align itself to CPTPP’s high standards and is continuing its long-standing commitment to rules-based trade and the global trading system. We expect CPTPP to grow in size, and future members will be a matter for future consideration. I am looking forward to our next round of Joint Economic and Trade Committee talks with Taiwan, hopefully as soon as travel becomes possible again.
I very much support the Government’s efforts to become a member of CPTPP, which, as the Minister mentioned, offers great prospects. Indeed, my constituency is a major centre for renewable energy and has links with, for example, Taiwan. Does he anticipate that the renewable energy sector will gain great advantage from CPTPP membership and boost those industries in my constituency?
Yes. CPTPP will of course liberalise trade in goods and services in the fast-growing markets in the Pacific, and fast-growing markets have fast-growing needs for clean energy. In recent times, I have been in Vietnam, Korea and Taiwan, pushing UK expertise and exports, for example, in the offshore wind sector. I remind the House that the UK has the world’s largest offshore wind capacity. I am sure there will be opportunities for that and other renewable sectors in Yorkshire and the Humber, including in Cleethorpes.
The Government are relying on increased trade with Malaysia for three quarters of the forecast benefits from joining the CPTPP. That may explain why Ministers have turned a blind eye to the growing use of slave labour in Malaysian factories. If the Minister disputes what I have just said, perhaps he can tell us what proportion of the 760 million medical gloves bought by the Government from Malaysia during the pandemic were manufactured using slave labour?
We take our obligations and any allegations of the use of slave labour extremely seriously. I am happy to look into it if the hon. Member has specific allegations in relation to Malaysia. I might add that the Malaysian supply of latex gloves last year was extremely important for this country, but I am happy to look into it if he has specific evidence of the use of slave labour. Of course, Malaysia has not yet ratified CPTPP. We hope that it will and I remind him that CPTPP has a comprehensive chapter on labour and workers’ rights.
The Minister really was not in a position to answer that question because his Department failed to act on warnings last year from the high commissioner in Kuala Lumpur telling them that their slavery audit function for glove manufacturing was not up to the task. It simply cannot be allowed to continue, so if I write to the Minister with the Government’s current list of glove suppliers—I have a list of 19 companies so far—will he agree to conduct a proper audit of their factories? Bearing in mind what he just said about accession to CPTPP and Malaysia having yet to ratify it, will he also reconsider signing any trade agreement with Malaysia as long as its reliance on slave labour persists?
I repeat my offer to have a look at the specifics, of course. The UK Government take all such accusations, allegations or reports extremely seriously. When it comes to Malaysia joining CPTPP, they have signed and it is up to them to ratify. The UK is not currently a member of CPTPP so it is not up to us who joins it at the moment, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that CPTPP does include a comprehensive labour chapter that ensures that the parties protect and enforce labour rights, improve working conditions and strengthen co-operation on labour issues, all of which would be very helpful in the sort of cases that he is talking about.