Skip to main content

Trade: Trans-Pacific Partnership

Volume 805: debated on Wednesday 23 September 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership; and if they have such plans, when they plan to join.

My Lords, accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is a government priority and a key part of our trade negotiations programme. We aim to begin formal accession negotiations next year. Any final decision to apply will consider both the progress of bilateral negotiations with CPTPP members and our confidence that we will be able to negotiate accession on terms compatible with the UK’s broader interests and domestic priorities.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. Can he tell the House when he expects CPTPP members Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which are also our Five Eyes partners, to support our membership and sign trade deals with us? Also, I welcome the deal with Japan. There is a chapter on SMEs, an ambition I understand the UK has for all other FTAs negotiated. This will help our innovative small businesses break into new markets, but sadly, the Government’s ambition for our global exports is more disappointing. Germany currently exports 47% of GDP, so why are the UK Government happy to set a low bar of just 35% for our exports?

My noble friend makes very good points. In terms of engagement so far with CPTPP members, the Trade Secretary met with ambassadors and high commissioners to discuss this, had a warm response and recently opened the first meeting between the UK and CPTPP officials to discuss preparations for the UK’s application to join the group. I will take up his point about exports with my colleague the Minister for Exports.

My Lords, since the Government are in the process of reneging on the withdrawal agreement that they freely entered into, how can Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership have faith that this Government will abide by any agreement they make to become a member?

My Lords, the British Government take their responsibilities under agreements very seriously. Sometimes, special circumstances arise where they have to take a view on the matters in the agreement, but I assure the noble Lord that we will adhere strictly to any free trade agreement that we sign.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of any implications for UK intellectual property rights? What progress have they made in the establishment of a utility trade platform, which would truly enable us to be a 21st-century, global, electronically based trading nation?

My Lords, the UK will ensure that any future accession talks with the CPTPP are consistent with the UK’s interests and the Government’s stated policies and priorities. We will not make changes to our intellectual property regime that are in any way detrimental to ourselves.

My Lords, we on these Benches are enthusiastic for UK businesses to utilise any expanded opportunities to export to the CPTPP countries in future, but this is the future, and what we face over the next couple of months, according to the DIT website this morning, is the fact that the UK will be trading on a free trade basis with only 8% of all UK trade—the worst record for the UK since the 1930s. Does the Minister agree that that will be disastrous for British exporters in the current economic climate and a very weak basis to look for further opportunities around the world?

My Lords, the Government are very keen to reach agreement with the European Union because of the importance that the noble Lord refers to; we are still working very hard on that. We have plenty of other trading partners around the world. If that agreement is not reached, we will trade on WTO terms with the EU. I think that there will be a bright future for this country in any event.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on not only obtaining the treaty with Japan but getting Japan’s support for our membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The partnership contains quite significant provisions in relation to state subsidy, competition and investor remedies. Does my noble friend think that these will be insuperable barriers to our membership?

I thank my noble friend for her question. Of course, we will accede to the CPTPP only if we are happy that the arrangements we are acceding to are in the UK’s interest. We are confident that we will be able to reach that position with its members.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that we face two spheres of internet governance at the moment: one controlled by authoritarian regimes, rife with surveillance; and the other, western, free and accessible to all? Does he therefore agree that, alongside the CPTPP, another priority should be digital FTAs with Japan, Australia and India?

My Lords, in the recent agreement in principle with Japan that we were so pleased to reach, there is an extensive data and digital services chapter that we hope will be a model for our future free trade agreements. The points made by the noble Baroness are important and are always in our mind when we negotiate these agreements.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the CPTPP contains ISDS clauses? Given that the Secretary of State described this as an

“advanced agreement full of countries committed to the rules of international trade”,

why do the Government believe it necessary to provide secretive ISDS structures when we and the current members are in good standing and have perfectly adequate legal systems?

My Lords, the UK will ensure that any future accession talks with the CPTPP are consistent with our interests and our stated policies and priorities. We are clear that our future investment policy will continue to protect our right to regulate in the public interest and we will ensure that UK investors abroad receive the same high standard of treatment that foreign investors receive in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, there are some incompatibilities between the withdrawal agreement and the principles of the CPTPP, such as protection of traditional names for wine under Article 58.2. Those would require a carve-out. Has an assessment been made of how many carve-outs might be necessary to fit UK law into such areas as food safety and how many could be tolerated by CPTPP members?

My Lords, because we have not entered into negotiations on this agreement yet, it is hard to predict exactly how they will progress, but we are clear that more trade will not compromise our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.

My Lords, picking up on the theme of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in wishing otherwise, I would not invest in the Pacific Alliance countries, having listened to a briefing of somewhat negative messaging about that region from our resident ambassadors. Knowing the opportunities that exist, will the Minister sit with his colleagues in government and agree to a sea change in approach that focuses on opportunities for a global Britain, which will need alliances with emerging and frontier markets—of which there are plenty in the Pacific Alliance, which additionally forms a useful springboard for such organisations as Mercosur, for example?

My Lords, the CPTPP is one of the largest free trade areas in the world. It represented 13% of global GDP in 2018, which would increase to more than 16% if the UK were to join. It is one of the world’s premier growth interests and we consider that it is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom to be part of it.

In the event that we are successful and negotiate a deal with the CPTPP, or individually with Australia, New Zealand and Canada, what will be the parliamentary oversight and scrutiny of that agreement? Will the Government follow the procedure set out so effectively by Henry Dimbleby in part one of his national food strategy?

My Lords, I am not familiar with my noble friend’s reference, but I will certainly look that strategy up and consider it in our future efforts in this area.