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Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability

Volume 809: debated on Monday 11 January 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to support the initiative for an Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability.

My Lords, sustainable trade is a priority for the UK as an independent trading nation. We have already liberated more than 100 environmental goods in the UK global tariff and co-sponsored the new plurilateral structured discussions on trade and environmental sustainability in the WTO. We are considering further policy options, including the three policy areas which comprise the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability: environmental goods and services liberalisation, eco labelling, and fossil fuel subsidies.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. I understand that he will not be able to comment on the outcome, but can he assure me that the UK will seek to have those three measures—ending barriers to trade in environmental goods and services, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and a global eco-labelling scheme—in all future trade deals? Will the UK use its seat on the WTO to get them built into the WTO rules?

My Lords, I am happy to confirm to the noble Baroness that that is the case. We consider these subjects to be very important and we always seek to cover them in our negotiations on future free trade agreements.

My Lords, my noble friend welcomed this agreement in the Trade Bill debate last week. Can he expand on his welcome? Can it be taken as a statement of intent to join, and what steps is the department taking to help businesses trade in a way that lowers their emissions and environmental footprint?

My Lords, we are considering seriously the policy areas which underline the agreement; we attach great importance to them. We support further moves in this area and are carefully considering whether we should move forward with this.

My Lords, according to Eurostat figures, our Government spend approximately £10 billion a year subsidising fossil fuels. Do they agree that this is both outdated and extremely damaging, and should be phased out? Can the Minister update me on the Government’s plans in this direction?

My Lords, the UK has been a long-standing supporter of multilateral efforts to promote fossil fuel subsidy reform. There is some technical disagreement as to exactly what comprises a fossil fuel subsidy. For example, we would not want the £200 winter fuel payment that we make to pensioners to be included as a subsidy. Some debate is still going on about the coverage of this matter.

My Lords, on 1 September, the Minister for Trade Policy claimed:

“Having left the EU, the UK has a unique opportunity to design a set of policies to tackle climate change.”

He added that the Government were actively exploring trade policy options to support ambitious action in this direction. What is the nature of this exploration and what contact have we had with any of the parties to the agreement?

My Lords, as I said earlier, we consider this subject to be very important. At the March 2020 WTO General Council, the Secretary of State for International Trade announced that the environment, including climate, was one of the three key priorities for UK ambition and leadership in its position as an independent member of the WTO.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that the Government are considering closely the three policy areas referred to. I am also glad that the Minister keeps me informed of the discussions with New Zealand on a trade agreement. Given this very good proposal from the New Zealand Government, is there not an opportunity in the forthcoming trade agreement with New Zealand that we all hope for to make advances in these three key areas? If global Britain means anything, our trade agreement with New Zealand would be a very good place to start working on these three areas in particular.

My Lords, as always, the noble Lord is correct in these matters. We have a close relationship with New Zealand on trading matters; we tend to think alike. We certainly hope to advance these matters during our negotiations.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the UK were to accede to the ACCTS, it would go a long way to demonstrating to a doubting world our commitment to honouring the level playing field clauses contained in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement?

My Lords, I endorse the noble Lord’s point. Obviously, the decision on whether to join these negotiations has some technical aspects. We very much accept the principles underlying this agreement but some of the fine print still needs to be considered and examined.

My Lords, I will try not to echo the noble Lord, Lord Reid, by taking a phone call during my question, but I will do so somewhat by saying that, given that three of the signatories to the agreement are European countries that are not members of the EU, does this not provide Brexit Britain with a golden opportunity to lead the non-EU European environmental trade policy response?

My Lords, as this matter is now entirely within our competence, we absolutely intend to use our freedom to be one of the leading countries in the world in this area and, hopefully, set an example that other countries may follow.

My Lords, the initiative on climate change, led by a group of smaller countries, is timely and commendable. Does the Minister agree that the UK is well placed to lead on turning sentiment into reality by pressing for trade and development policies bound tightly to agreed global constraints, in order to protect the environment, which sustains us all?

My Lords, the noble Lord is completely right to make this point. We want our generation to be the first to leave the world in a better state than we found it. Working on agreements such as this is an important component of that.

My Lords, do the Government anticipate any problems in complying with the commitment made by the ACCTS countries to abolish tariffs on environmental goods and services?

My Lords, we have already abolished tariffs on, I think, 100 new environmental goods and services. We keep this subject under close review and consult the relevant bodies on it. Where we can do further liberalisation, we would like to do so, of course.

Can the Minister tell the House what measures the Government intend to take to ensure that the fundamental rights and values of nature that lie at the heart of the Terra Carta, or earth charter—Prince Charles’s excellent initiative, launched today—are reflected in the UK’s approach to future trade agreements?

My Lords, when I heard reports of this initiative this morning, I thought it was timely, happening as it is on the day of this Question. I very welcome it and we look forward to building on it.

My Lords, will my noble friend take this opportunity to confirm once again that we will maintain high standards in environmental protection, food safety and animal welfare? It is concerning that the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides—intended to protect bees—has been extended for only a limited period. Can the Minister assure the House that we will hold to the high standards we enjoyed while we were members of the European Union?

My Lords, absolutely; I am happy to give that assurance on these important areas. We certainly did not see that an advantage of leaving the European Union would be that we could lower standards in these areas.