Monday 1 February 2021
The Grand Committee met in a hybrid proceeding.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now begin. Some Members are here in person, respecting social distancing, and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I must ask Members in the Room to wear a face covering except when seated at their desk, to speak sitting down and to wipe down their desk, chair and any other touch points before and after use. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded, or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes. The timing for this debate is quite tight, so I urge all noble Lords to please keep to their allotted time.
The UK’s Relationship with the Pacific Alliance (International Relations Committee Report)
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I begin by thanking all the then members of the International Relations Committee when this report was first published; the excellent clerk and support staff for their work; and, especially, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who urged us to look at this area and whose expertise greatly benefited the committee, and from whom we will hear shortly.
This is, of course, a delayed debate, in the sense that publication was actually more than 18 months ago. Things inevitably move on, as they certainly have done in relation to the subject matter of this inquiry and report. It is a pity in a way, not least because it means that the initiative in discussion and new insights into important issues tend to slide away from your Lordships’ House into other fora. I know that some colleagues will want to say something about these long delays, which may be inevitable, between the publication and debate of Lords reports. In the meantime, at least this delay gives us the chance to update ourselves on fast-moving events in the region we are looking at today. There is sort of a silver lining to the delay situation.
The Pacific Alliance currently brings together Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. It was founded in 2011 and covers trade and a whole range of wider issues as well. It is one of a number of trade associations and organisations in the Latin America region. In global terms it is relatively small, with a total population of 210 million people, compared with the giant new networks that have sprung up in Asia and are now reshaping the whole of world trade and commerce, such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership—CPTPP—which I will talk a bit more about in a moment, or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, which, with a market of 2.2 billion people, dwarfs even the European Union.
The Pacific Alliance is certainly thriving, although it has had to survive quite a few political bumps and changes along the way, including several since we wrote this report. As the Financial Times rightly warns, all these will certainly continue. Also, British trade relations with the region have been pretty modest in recent decades, involving in fact only about 0.7% of our total exports and 0.6% of our imports for the four countries in the alliance, and indeed with only 1.5% of our total exports going to the whole of Latin America. Of course, in the distant past things were quite different, and Britain had a far larger and deeper connection with South America. So it may be thought a little strange that your Lordships’ International Relations Committee chose back then to undertake even a short inquiry—as this one is—on these four specific countries, when most of our inquiries tend to be on major and overarching foreign policy issues rather than bilateral single-country relationships.
But there were at least two reasons why we did this. First, the Pacific Alliance is a classic example of the way that world trade is changing. We are not looking at a static picture at all, but at a very fast-evolving one. Saplings grow, sometimes very rapidly, into big trees with wide-spreading branches. The PA is not a customs union; it is something much more modern. I would say it is more of a product of the digital age, when data and services start to form the bulk of international exchange.
If we look at the new world trade pattern as a complex new jigsaw, which it is, the Pacific Alliance is certainly one of the pieces without which the picture is not complete, and to which the time has come to give renewed and close attention. Linkages between the Pacific Alliance and another major Latin American trading group, Mercosur, could well develop soon. Ecuador could join before long. There are co-operation agreements with the Eurasian Economic Union—not much talked about here in the UK—and with the OECD. Partly this is just what happens in the digital age between networks as they weave together, and partly it is because forward-looking states that want open trade and to be champions of liberalisation, as these four countries do, now seek combined defences against the rather ugly modes of protection which are very much around.
Secondly, when it comes to why we looked at this issue and this region, the word “Pacific” tells the story. The four countries involved face the Pacific and are clearly looking to Pacific trade as a key to their future. Three of the four are already members of the CPTPP I mentioned, and, of course, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand are now associates in return, as it were, with the alliance.
This is an area of acute interest to our own future trade policy as we too seek—and, in fact, officially apply for tomorrow—membership of the CPTPP. We will join its existing 11 members, of which six are members of the Commonwealth—a fact which seems to have escaped the notice of Ministers so far. It is located in the region where almost all the growth in trade, consumer markets, world GDP and innovation over the next 10 years and beyond is most likely, and has been predicted, to occur.
The International Trade Secretary used a good phrase the other day in commenting on the UK’s very interesting new comprehensive partnership agreement with Japan. She said we needed a “Pacific mindset” in developing our global trade policy, to which I would add that we need a Commonwealth mindset, since we have the good fortune to be a member of that vast worldwide network and since all these networks are increasingly interconnected with and reinforcing each other. This is the new emerging pattern in which our intense engagement is essential for our future prosperity, as well as our security.
The government response to our short report was broadly positive and helpful but a little prickly about our urgings that the UK needed to do a lot more and have a clearer overall approach to the region and generally to engage more strongly. But I am sure that the august minds in the now FCDO are fully used to this sort of parliamentary nudging, which may have its critical elements, I concede, but which I hope reinforces the efforts of those in Whitehall who are beavering away at these sometimes unfashionable but potentially—and in due course—crucial areas of trade, investment and broader politics.
These countries are far from being the lowest-income states but some of them undoubtedly have severe problems of poverty and need to develop much faster. Like almost every other region, the pandemic has, of course, set them back very grievously indeed.
The UK provides ODA funds of about £180 million in all for Latin America and £600 million in bilateral programmes. But by far the best way nowadays to build lasting links, which we discussed in our inquiry, is through providing well-focused, technology-based solutions to specific areas and concentrating on the mechanisms—which are different in each country—which unlock faster and fairer growth. Old and facile ideas about development funds, with the measure being simply the amount of cash being handed out, are, in my view, now hopelessly out of date and misleading.
The nations of Latin America are experiencing varying fortunes, with once-rich Venezuela the outstanding problem area, obviously in the grip of a very regrettable pattern of tyrannical government, and bogged down in an outdated economic doctrine that is causing huge suffering and the exile of large numbers of the population. For most other parts of the Latin American continent, despite the political ructions and the comings and goings and changes at the top, there is plenty of promise in the new era ahead. These nations see themselves no longer as America’s backyard or in the so-called American pond. The pond—if one can call it that—to which British attention, commercial thrust and our substantial soft-power influence should be turned, and where major issues affecting our security and prosperity now lie, is the Pacific Ocean. That means having a Pacific mindset and engaging energetically with all groupings heading in the same direction, as the Pacific Alliance is clearly now doing. The hope must be that this short report gives a small further push towards that important goal. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for his characteristically well-informed and expert introduction. I welcome that way that this report has highlighted the potential to the UK of the Pacific Alliance, established in 2011. That importance is underlined, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said, by the fact that the leaders of China and another 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region signed in November 2020—just two months ago—one of the biggest free trade deals in history, covering 2.2 billion people and 30% of the world’s economic output. Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea signed the deal, alongside members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Can the Minister comment on the weekend news that the UK is applying to join a free trade area made up of 11 Asia-Pacific nations, under its post-Brexit plans? The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership—CPTPP—includes Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, covering a market of around half a billion people and generating more than 13% of the world’s income. As the Minister will be aware, there are 11 countries in the CPTPP, some overlapping with the Pacific Alliance. Formed in 2018, it comprises Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Can the Minister say when negotiations will begin and what human rights, employment protection and sustainable growth clauses Britain will seek to place within it?
The committee reports:
“The Government appears to lack a coherent, well thought-through approach to Latin America as a whole, and to its regional and subregional organisations.”
Yet many of the countries in the region, including members of the Pacific Alliance, are ones with which the UK shares considerable common ground on policy issues, such as on the global economy, trade, sustaining the rules-based international order, upholding human rights and addressing climate change. I agree with the committee that the Government should raise and promote the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, particularly in the context of UK companies’ activities in the region, and that they should promote only sustainable, inclusive growth in a continent where nature has been devastated by human commercialism—Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is still being plundered—and which engages with the concerns of indigenous peoples.
Given that this month the UK will take up the presidency of the UN Security Council, and that Mexico is currently serving as a non-permanent member of the council, what effort are the Government making to co-operate with Mexico as one of the most influential nations in the Pacific Alliance? As part of the COP 26 presidency, what steps will the Government take to tackle the climate crisis, specifically in the Pacific Alliance countries, Peru in particular? What are the Government doing to ensure that the Colombian Government uphold their commitment to end violence against human rights defenders and trade unionists? Because UK citizens can be safe during the Covid-19 pandemic only if everyone in the world is safe, what steps have the Government taken to support vaccine access for central America, when Pacific Alliance countries such as Colombia and Chile are yet to even begin their full vaccination programmes? After the Government’s pernicious cut in aid, what proportion of the multibillion aid cuts will fall on the programmes in the Pacific Alliance?
As the committee argued, together these four Pacific Alliance countries constitute the world’s seventh-largest economy, with “great” potential for increases in the current miserly levels of UK trade. I applaud its recommendations for: around 400 Chevening scholarships to students from Pacific Alliance countries; support for green finance; support for girls’ education, especially in science, engineering, technology and mathematics; and help to strengthen the countries’ competition authorities. I also urge more support for the British Council, which has also suffered big cuts in its vital training, arts and engagement exercises. Like aid cuts, this is a pathetically self-defeating policy for a Government who trumpet “global Britain” yet undermine the British Council, which, as I have seen as a Minister abroad, has been so brilliant at promoting Britain.
My Lords, I welcome this report, with reservations. The UK has neglected relations with Latin American countries since the last war. There have been periodic attempts to increase our commitment, and to reverse the decline in trading and investment links, but we have continued to lag far behind Germany and others in the intensity of our relations with most countries in the region.
I have often acted as a guide in singing tours of Westminster Abbey, where I walk over the tomb of Admiral Lord Cochrane, who at one point commanded the Chilean navy and helped found the Peruvian fleet. Britain has strong historical ties with Latin America that we have let decline. As a policy analyst working on transatlantic relations, I have attended conferences in Chile and Mexico, and have also visited Peru. The members of the Pacific Alliance are significant states. On any definition of global Britain, we should be paying more attention to relations with Latin American states and markets, but we should not fall into the trap of assuming that trade with Latin America can somehow replace trade with the European continent; nor fall into the illusion that economic integration among South American countries is an easier process to commit the UK to than any European one. I recall when I was a young academic, 50 years ago, the optimism of Mexican economists about the prospects for the Latin American Free Trade Association and other regional schemes. These failed or stagnated as regimes changed in different South American states.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is correct to argue that the UK needs to pay more attention to the Pacific as a region—with the rapidly growing economies of east and south-east Asia now acting as the dynamo of global growth, and with the rise of China creating new economic and security challenges—but we need to beware of overemphasising the prospect of Britain becoming a major commercial or military player in the Pacific; nor should we see commitment to Pacific co-operation as an alternative to continued engagement with European states and markets and across the wider European neighbourhood to the Mediterranean and Africa. The enthusiasm with which the Secretary of State for International Trade has just announced the UK’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership contrasts sharply with her antagonism towards the European Union. The CPTPP, if it develops into a serious economic grouping, which is not yet clear, will compromise UK sovereignty on issues such as animal welfare, regulation of chemicals, and investor protection. It is not clear to me why such limits on sovereignty should be more acceptable to our Government in the Pacific than across the North Sea.
The Pacific Alliance is only a small player on the fringes of the Pacific region. One of its four members is not yet a member of the CPTPP. China and the USA are its dominant external partners. The EU as a whole is less important to it. Britain, as the report notes, sends less than 1% of its exports to it. A determined export drive might raise this to 2% or even 3%.
Some of the comments in the report seem questionable. We are told about the
“importance of defence co-operation between the UK and Chile”.
Is that really important compared with our defence co-operation with France and the Netherlands, which our Government attempt to hide from their own people? It is suggested that these countries should be encouraged to have closer relations with the Commonwealth, but we are not told why or how the UK will explain the value of that to the Commonwealth’s African neighbours.
Yes, we should work harder to develop trade and investment with these and other Latin American countries. No, this is not a major element in the new global Britain that the Prime Minister has promised to recreate—to make Britain great again, in his Trumpian phraseology. We await the overdue integrated review of foreign and security strategy to learn about the Government’s vision of Britain’s global role after Brexit, in which closer relations with these four states should have a significant but small part.
My Lords, I served on the International Relations Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I was the president of the Peru Support Group at the time. Our clerk and her team enabled us to deal with a great deal of evidence, including a valuable session with the ambassadors of the four Pacific Alliance countries.
Since the report’s publication, the UK has withdrawn from the EU, promoted its global Britain strategy and signed continuity agreements with all four Pacific Alliance member states, so it is time now to implement the report’s core recommendation:
“The UK should deepen its engagement with the Pacific Alliance as an active observer state”.
In their response, the Government said that they agreed with that, so I will give a few examples of what being an active observer state should look like and what is in it for the UK.
One of our witnesses, Professor Gardini, pointed out that one of the alliance’s strategic objectives is to build relationships within the Asia-Pacific region, also offering an opportunity for
“UK insertion into regional and global value chains aiming at the Asian market.”
Professor Gardini also said that the alliance could be
“a significant political partner in global forums and issues.”
This could be helpful in reconfiguring our international influence outside the EU and building alliances on global issues such as climate change, on which the UK aspires to be a global leader and which the alliance identifies as a key concern.
The UK has also shown leadership in respect of the UN’s principles on business and human rights. Greater engagement with the Pacific Alliance provides a unique opportunity to put this commitment into practice by influencing sustainable growth within the region without trampling on the rights of indigenous communities.
Since we reported, there have been significant events in the Pacific Alliance countries as well as in our own—most notably, and in common with the rest of the world, the Covid pandemic, resulting in deep recession in all four countries. Chile has experienced widespread social and political disruption, and Colombia continues to struggle in many ways to implement the peace accord. In all four member states, the fallout from Venezuela is making heavy demands across society.
However, the main proposition of the report holds good. At their summit only last month, the four member states showed confidence and resilience in the role and remit of the alliance, announcing an action plan to address the pandemic’s economic and commercial impact, a digital transformation plan and a declaration on gender equality. Singapore is poised to upgrade from observer status to being an associate member. Australia, New Zealand and Canada are expected to do likewise in 2021. South Korea and Ecuador are also candidates for associate membership. Associate status is based on free trade agreements. When our continuity agreements expire, will the Government look at converting them into an FTA with the alliance as a whole, possibly even seeking associate status alongside other Commonwealth partners?
The report sets out the clear potential for UK export growth in the region. I emphasise the recommendation that the DIT restore “direct language support” to business. Will the Minister take this up with the department?
However, the Pacific Alliance is not just about trade. It is also about the well-being of citizens, addressing inequalities and social inclusion, cultural and educational mobility, and co-operation on scientific research. The role of the British Council is highly valued. Yet we continue to undermine our own interests and those of the Pacific Alliance in these areas, as well as in business, by persisting with an outdated and unjustifiable visa regime that still restricts, delays and deters visitors to the UK from Peru and Colombia for tourism, study or business. Mexico and Chile are not subject to via restrictions; it really is time that the Government accept the case for a level playing field across all four alliance countries. We get the same stonewalling answers every time a question is asked about this, but there can be no clearer case for removing the short-term visa requirements for Peru and Colombia. Will the Minister take this up urgently with Home Office colleagues?
I have not been able to do this report justice in five minutes but I hope that I have at least illustrated, with a few examples, how and why it is very much in the UK’s enlightened self-interest to strengthen our relationship with the Pacific Alliance with serious focus and energy.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Howell on his perseverance, which has finally secured time for a debate on our International Relations and Defence Committee’s report, The UK’s Relationship with the Pacific Alliance. It was a pleasure to serve as a member of the committee under my noble friend’s chairmanship and, indeed, as a colleague on the Front Bench for many years before that. It was therefore an honour to follow him as chair of the committee 18 months ago.
Post Brexit, the UK now has the opportunity to reconsider its strategy in delivering on its global Britain agenda. We await the publication of the long-delayed integrated review of foreign policy, defence, security and development. On 18 January, my noble friend Lord Ahmad confirmed in the House that it will now include a soft power strategy—also long delayed.
Today, the noble Lord, Lord Frost, begins his work in a new post in Downing Street as the Prime Minister’s representative on Brexit and international policy. It is reported that he will liaise with the Foreign Secretary. One has to wonder, however, what impact that will have on the decision-making process in the FCDO. I welcome the noble Lord’s appointment. He is to be congratulated on his work in negotiating our trade agreement with the EU. I also hope that I will have the opportunity this year to welcome him to our committee to give evidence.
It is a pleasure to see my noble friend Lord Godson take his seat today. He is the director of Policy Exchange. I agree with the position expounded in its recent report, A Very British Tilt:
“As it contemplates its global interests post-Brexit, the UK could and should play a significantly larger role in the Indo-Pacific Region. Specifically, it should aim to foster a community of free and independent nations committed to upholding peace, stability, prosperity, and access in the region. By offering a vision of a common strategic future built around shared principles and focused on shared challenges … Britain can add to existing defence, trade, and political relationships and inspire new approaches.”
Last month, the International Trade Secretary said in another place that our accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is “a priority”. I join the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in asking my noble friend the Minister to confirm whether the Trade Secretary has now formally confirmed the media reports from this weekend that today is the day when we will make an application to join that agreement. In doing so, of course, we would be the first non-founder member to do so.
As my noble friend has said, three members of that partnership are also members of the Pacific Alliance: Chile, Mexico and Peru. The fourth, Colombia, has given formal notice of its interest in joining the agreement. That should be a reminder that, when we talk about an Asia-Pacific tilt, there are two sides to that great ocean and there are important opportunities to engage with like-minded countries in both regions.
The UK has observer status in the Pacific Alliance. How have we engaged with it since the publication of our committee’s report so long ago, for example in areas such as consumer protection, infrastructure and development, culture, education and trade facilitation? What steps have the FCDO and DIT taken to raise and promote the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, commonly known as the Ruggie principles? I note that DIT launched the UK’s first ever Latin America and Caribbean investor club in April 2019. What assessment have the Government made of its progress so far?
In conclusion, I add my thanks to the ambassadors to the UK from Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, who gave evidence to our Select Committee, and for the enduring friendship that they have shown to this Parliament. Indeed, we have also benefited in recent months from their briefing meetings, hosted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union British group. Continued and deepening engagement with members of the Pacific Alliance can clearly be of benefit to them but also to us.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to join and engage in this debate, and to have the opportunity to learn from the considerable experience and expertise that your Lordships bring to it.
I have relatively little experience of the region. I have, however, had the opportunity to visit Mexico on a number of occasions, most recently when I was part of an election observation delegation that saw Andrés Manuel López Obrador elected. I was therefore interested in the phrase in the report that said that countries in the region remain
“vulnerable to political swings at future elections”.
I merely observe that either the maintenance in power of a party or a change to a different party in power, as has just happened in the US, is what we tend to think of as democracy, so “vulnerable” seems a slightly odd word to me.
I will make a couple of observations about Colombia, which I have had visited a number of times with British and other parliamentarians and trade unionists. The reason for those visits was to engage with human rights defenders who have come under considerable attack and to meet trade unionists, many of whom have been imprisoned under the catch-all legislation of rebellion. When the report talks of the UK having
“a set of shared values, whether on democracy, or the way we want to see the international system working, based on rules”,
I am pleased that the recommendations and conclusions contain the following:
“The UK should also continue in its bilateral engagement to support and help to strengthen the rule of law in these countries.”
Specifically, I was recently pleased that the Minister was able to engage with some of these issues in response to a Question. I will add to the large number of questions already put to him today. As the penholder for Colombia at the UN, the UK has a particular responsibility to play an active role in ensuring that the Colombian Government uphold their commitment to end violence against human rights defenders and trade unionists. When the Minister spoke of these matters in response to the Question, the answers were very fulsome, but I want to take the opportunity provided by this debate to ask the Minister for an update on the UK’s recent work as the penholder for Colombia and to say what assessment Her Majesty’s Government have made of recent levels of violence there.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, both for the important report that he and his committee have written and for obtaining this substantial debate. It gives us an opportunity to discuss the relationship with the four countries of the Pacific Alliance and advise Her Majesty’s Government on how they should prioritise and promote this set of relationships.
I have a long-standing interest in this area, particularly in Colombia and Peru. I declare my registered interest as the president of the Peru Support Group. I pay particular tribute to my predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, pointed out, played an important role in the origins of the report and spoke with such passion and insight this afternoon.
My relationship with those countries and my visits to them began many years ago when Northern Ireland, my own part of the United Kingdom, was emerging from a long and painful experience of terrorism. Both Peru and Colombia were seeking to do the same. Of course, the underlying issues that find tragic expression in terrorist campaigns do not easily or quickly go away—even when, as in Colombia in particular, there has been a substantial effort at peacebuilding. My connection with both countries still includes regular contact with colleagues there who continue to work to build peace, stability and reconciliation, as is also the case in Northern Ireland.
However, like the Select Committee report does, I will focus on some other important elements of our relationships and how they can be developed to our mutual benefit, especially in this post-Brexit period. One of my frustrations over the years has been the way in which our Governments have consciously turned away from long-standing relationships with Latin America. I well recall protesting in your Lordships’ House against the decision of the Blair Administration to withdraw resources from Latin America in favour of a focus on China. The closure of the British Council office in Lima in 2006 is just one example of this serious strategic error of judgment, which was clear to me at the time—and I said so. Abandoning long-standing relationships of that kind in favour of hoped-for economic benefits from countries that do not share our values is almost always foolish and misguided, as those decisions have proved to be.
I hope that the announcement just made by the Government of their intention to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is a genuine resetting of our orientation. We have a long-standing relationship with these countries. I was reminded—your Lordships may be amused to hear this—of the length of that relationship when I saw that the main highway in Santiago was named after Bernardo O’Higgins: a clear demonstration of the long-standing relationship and one with which the noble Lord, Lord West, would be particularly pleased since O’Higgins was an admiral.
I also hope that the relations with the Pacific Alliance countries that are currently members of the CPTPP will expand—and include all of them, of course—and will be real priorities and not secondary to those with some of the other members that are also long-standing and valued friends.
In our negotiations and in the deepening of the relationship with the Pacific Alliance countries, particularly Peru and Colombia, I have four requests of Her Majesty’s Government. The first is that, to facilitate business, tourist and citizen contacts, the UK needs to change its visa regulations for Peru and Colombia. I have mentioned this before and I am delighted to see that the report is very clear about its importance. I suspect that the unspoken reason for the stonewalling by the Government is to do with security. I am familiar with those issues but I do not think that they should be regarded as a problem. The potential benefits of mutual contact between our countries cannot be overestimated, but even as we all suffer from the profound restrictions on travel very properly in place because of Covid, there is much that can be done online in language, culture and the future opportunities of digital developments.
Secondly, we have long-standing substantial investments in the region, for example in the extractive industries of Peru. I want to see that develop but I also want to see it taking place with due regard to the welfare of the environment, with which the Pacific Alliance is so richly and variously endowed, and—thirdly—the interests of the indigenous peoples of the region, many of whom live in deep poverty and are suffering grievously from the pandemic.
The problems for indigenous peoples go back a long way, as does the concern of Her Majesty’s Government for their welfare. I remind your Lordships of the report on the Anglo-Peruvian Amazon Rubber Co. by Sir Roger Casement in the early 1900s, when he was a diplomat for the United Kingdom. Will Her Majesty’s Government undertake that in all relationships and agreements the interests of the indigenous people, and the people as a whole, will get due attention?
Fourthly and lastly, we want to see economic co-operation. We may well wish to be able to give health co-operation in this time when vaccines are needed. In all these and many other areas, there is much to be gained from our co-operation with the Pacific Alliance countries. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and his colleagues, for this excellent report.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford for introducing this debate. I must admit that when I signed up to speak, I had mistakenly thought that we would be debating our imminent accession to the CPTPP, which should form an important pillar of the profile of global Britain as we renew and deepen our relationships around the world after leaving the EU. I must also admit that I was not aware of the existence of the Pacific Alliance and briefly contemplated withdrawing from the debate because, although I have spent many years living and working on the eastern shore of the Pacific and have visited California, British Columbia and Hawaii several times, I do not know the Latin American countries of that alliance at all. It is probably true that we hear much more about the Mercosur alliance than the Pacific Alliance, as the former’s total GDP is about 30% greater and, at $2.5 trillion annually, is approaching that of the UK.
However, having read the interesting report of the Select Committee I decided not to withdraw, not least because three of the four member countries of the Pacific Alliance are also members of the CPTPP. It is worth noting that of the other eight members of that organisation, only Japan and Vietnam are not members of the Commonwealth. Furthermore, the fourth country of the Pacific Alliance, Colombia, has given notification of its interest in joining the CPTPP. Of the six Commonwealth members that are already members of the CPTPP, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore are already associate members of the Pacific Alliance and therefore committed to enter into free trade agreements with it. Therefore, to maximise our influence in and the benefits we can gain from membership of the CPTPP, it seems logical that we should also seek associate membership of the Pacific Alliance and closer relationships with its members on a bilateral basis.
Two of the early continuity trade agreements to be negotiated were those with Chile, in January 2019, and with the Andean countries, which include Colombia and Peru, in August 2019. As your Lordships are well aware, we concluded a continuity trade agreement with Mexico just in time. However, in general, the Pacific Alliance members are not among those countries with which we have as many historical and trade links as others. Guyana is the only South American country which is a member of the Commonwealth.
The committee’s report noted that China is now the largest trade partner of Chile and Peru and is “extending its cultural diplomacy” throughout the region. It is very much in our interest that the UK, together with other democratic partners which practise rules-based free trade, should seek to balance that trend.
Lastly, the recent research paper by Robin Niblett of Chatham House underestimates global Britain’s capabilities. He does not say very much about Latin America but I do not think he is right to suggest that
“Britain will have to fight its way to the table on many of the most important transatlantic issues”.
His supposition that, even outside the EU, the UK Government
“will be better networked institutionally than almost any other country’s”
implies that the EU has added to our soft power around the world. During the years when I lived in Japan, I often attended meetings at the British embassy and at what was then called the Delegation of the European Communities in Tokyo. I am in no doubt that as the European legation grew in numbers and role, it became a competitor to the member states’ embassies. My experience has informed my view that the expansion of the EEAS has diminished slightly even the UK’s diplomatic influence overseas.
I welcome and support the Select Committee’s report’s conclusions, especially that the strengthening of the UK’s relationships with the Pacific Alliance countries, and with the organisation itself, will be invaluable as we negotiate the terms of our accession to the CPTPP.
My Lords, I welcome this debate. I regret having to begin my contribution to it with a procedural issue, which is the lengthening gap between the publication of Select Committee reports and the holding of debates on them. In the case of this report, it is well over a year. I do so free of any accusation of self-serving, because I am no longer on the committee, as I was when the noble Lord, Lord Howell, so brilliantly chaired our committee and produced this report.
I challenge anyone who is aware of the speed with which international affairs develop to defend gaps of this sort between publication and debate, or indeed the failure so far to schedule a debate on the committee’s report on sub-Saharan Africa, which was published more than seven months ago. I really plead with the Minister, when he comes to reply to the debate, not to take cover behind talking about this committee or that group being responsible for such delays, and rather to agree to go and consider with his colleagues how we could do better. If we can set a two-month limit for the Government to respond to the conclusions and recommendations of these reports, as we do, why on earth can the House not set itself a time limit of, let us say, four or five months after publication to have a debate?
This debate is a timely reminder of just how thin our relationships are with the countries of Latin America and their regional and subregional organisations, such as the Pacific Alliance. Months, if not years, go by when neither the Government nor Parliament pay much attention to those countries, yet they comprise a substantial portion of the world’s population and economy. In the 19th century we played an important and often beneficial role in their development, and I am not referring just to football. Since then, our role has dwindled through neglect, yet these countries are natural partners and allies in trade, in promoting human rights, in protecting democratic institutions and in dealing with climate change. This makes all the more lamentable the Government’s decision to renege on our commitment to the UN target of giving 0.7% of our gross national income to aid. Can the Minister say what effect that decision is likely to have in the next financial year on our aid to Latin America in general and to the countries of the Pacific Alliance and their programmes in particular?
One key area in which we could strengthen our links with Latin America is that of trade policy. It has been stated time and again by the Government that leaving the EU would enable us to negotiate free trade agreements worldwide, but what sign is there of that in Latin America? So far, there is nothing more than rolling over agreements which simply replicate what already existed when we were an EU member state. That is just running to stand still, however much hyperbole the Secretary of State for International Trade may lavish on their signature. One might ask, quite literally: where is the beef? Are we, for example, going to move ahead with Mercosur while its agreement with the EU is not yet ratified, and can we improve on it? What work has the DIT done to identify products—ethanol, for example—from the countries of Latin America on which we could offer better access than the EU? I hope the answers to these last questions will be given by the Minister and will not be similar to that given in the context of our report on sub-Saharan Africa, which was, “We have done absolutely nothing to identify improved access.”
The Government speak often about the objective of pursuing a “global Britain” foreign policy. So far, that remains a slogan without much content—more a branding exercise than a policy. But if it is to become more than that in reality, it will need to have a Latin American dimension and to encompass the countries of the Pacific Alliance. I hope the Minister will be able to say something about that when he replies to the debate.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his introductory speech, and the committee he then chaired and its staff and advisers for the report we are debating. As noble Lords have commented, because the formal request to join the CPTPP is—apparently—imminent, this debate, although delayed, is timely.
The report implies what a 2019 Foreign Affairs Committee report says specifically:
“South America is a source of … untapped potential”
for the UK, offering an opportunity to develop UK influence and promote mutual prosperity, security and stability. My interest is in security and stability. One important example of the success of UK diplomacy is the UK’s consistent support of the Colombian peace process. However, human rights continue to be a concern in Colombia and across the region, with an increasing number of attacks against human rights defenders, as my noble friend Lady Blower said. This and the report’s recommendations that emphasise upholding human rights will be, with specific reference to the Colombian peace process, the sole focus of my contribution to the debate.
Despite Colombia signing a peace accord in 2016, the human rights situation there is worsening. Violence against human rights defenders, former combatants and trade unionists has escalated. In fact, in December, the UN reported that 120 human rights defenders and 249 former combatants had been killed, and that there had been a generalised increase in violence in 2020, with 66 massacres in the country. According to its ministry of defence, in 2020 the number of victims of massacres quadrupled compared with the last year of the peace negotiations. Military intelligence was also found to be spying on human rights defenders, journalists, high court magistrates and members of the opposition, and to be selling information to neo-paramilitaries. It might well have used equipment we sold to it to do this.
Neo-paramilitary and other illegal groups continue to take advantage of the pandemic to strengthen their social and territorial control. Violence is perpetrated in Colombia by all armed actors, but the groups most responsible are the neo-paramilitary and criminal organisations. Not only do they take the lives of most human rights defenders and former combatants, but their activities in rural areas are exacerbating humanitarian crises, enforcing confinement, and driving forced displacement and other human rights abuses, as well as the expansion of illicit economies. They are the key players in the violence against communities and a major obstacle to the implementation of the peace accord.
The UN verification mission, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, civil society and others have all highlighted the importance of the National Commission on Security Guarantees for sustainable peace in Colombia. The commission is a body charged under the peace agreement with developing a public policy for dismantling neo-paramilitary and criminal organisations and their support networks. It is essential that the verification mission is supported to carry out its work effectively. If we are to see one of the major obstacles to peace in Colombia removed that is a necessity.
Upholding human rights and ensuring sustainable peace are essential before deepening trading relationships with Colombia, as some of the worst human rights abuses involving business occur—[Inaudible.]
Lord Browne, we seem to have lost your sound.
I apologise. In this difficult context, businesses wittingly and unwittingly contribute to human rights harm.
The UK must always be confident—[Inaudible]—and that includes defending human rights. I have only one question for the Minister, and it is an addendum to my noble friend Lady Blower’s question. Once the assessment of recent violence is made and shared with us, what influence will that have on decisions we make on trade with Colombia?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his committee for this report. I am pleased that the Government drew our attention to the Canning agenda in their response, which was launched in 2010 by the then Foreign Secretary—now the noble Lord, Lord Hague. That was, of course, a statement of the coalition Government’s policy, and I am reassured that it remains the basis of the present Government’s approach.
Latin America always has difficulty in getting high up the list of British government priorities. We had only one colony on continental South America: Guyana. Spanish and Portuguese are the dominant languages. Customs and laws reflect their colonial past. Political and economic instability has too often been the norm, and external influences have often contributed to it. Little wonder it takes a little courage and fortitude to do business there. No one pretends that making a reality of building better, stronger and longer-lasting links with the Pacific Alliance will be easy, but global Britain should try.
In the brief time available, I will raise three points that would benefit from the Minister’s response. The first is the brush-off given in the Government’s reply to trade envoys. This is an error. This is not a job application, by the way, but I think it is a concept worth developing rather than sidelining. I have no direct experience of being a trade envoy, but I share an office with my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter, who was for five years the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Mexico. I can testify to the time, enthusiasm and hard work she devoted to that role, and how appreciated that work was by the Mexicans. The concept of Prime Minister’s trade envoys enables HMG to show a little tender loving care to countries and regions that may not qualify for a full ministerial visit. To inspire confidence, however, they should be clearly separated from any idea of personal patronage by the Prime Minister, although I see merit in associating the Prime Minister’s name with their mission.
Secondly, I mentioned that our only mainland South American colony was Guyana, but there are many Commonwealth members in the nearby Caribbean. Is there scope, in developing closer links with the Pacific Alliance, to encourage closer links between the Pacific Alliance and the Caribbean Commonwealth?
My third point concerns a more difficult part of our relationship. Mexico and Colombia are major sources of drug trafficking. Can our closer co-operation with the Pacific Alliance—and, if we foster them, its closer working relations with the Caribbean Commonwealth—help in the war on drugs?
It would be interesting to know whether the Foreign Secretary plans another Canning lecture any time soon, and whether it will contain any of the vision and sense of urgency contained in the 2010 speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hague. Will we, as he said in 2010, be keen to broker
“a strategic alliance between Latin America and Europe on climate change”,
or seek to make the UK
“the partner of choice in education and culture, offering new English language skills to a wider audience and fostering knowledge sharing and creativity in arts and science”?
The Canning House paper published in 2020 to mark the 10th anniversary of that speech noted some fear in the region that it would once again slip down our priority list. I know the Minister will be reassuring in his reply because he is the Minister for reassuring replies, but action, not words, will determine how far we have moved from the vision presented by the noble Lord, Lord Hague, on behalf of the coalition 11 years ago and the reality of our future relations with the Pacific Alliance.
My Lords, replicating and building on the 40 trade deals with over 70 countries that the UK enjoyed as a member of the EU was never going to be easy. But, to be fair to my right honourable friend Liz Truss and her team, as of the end of 2020 they had arranged the continuation of many of those deals through the mutatis mutandis principle, which in effect carried over the same terms and conditions we had previously enjoyed.
We have also entered into memoranda of understanding with a number of other countries that will, in due course, result in trade deals. The United States remains an important target, but, as someone who has studied the workings and political mechanisms of Congress and the Senate, I hope there is a realisation that this might be much more difficult to achieve in the short term than some would hope. The new Administration in the United States may well have other priorities.
Seeking out new partners above and beyond those we have retained from our EU membership is obviously a good and necessary thing, but the announcement that the Government want the UK to join the CPTPP is of significance, especially if it builds on the connections with the Pacific Alliance advocated by the excellent report on which today’s debate is based. The possibility of the United States also joining the CPTPP is exciting, but again, I suggest, may well be unlikely in the short term.
The work of the committee in producing the report, which explored the possibility of relationships with the alliance, was of course thorough and its conclusions wise. I shall concentrate on one or two of those conclusions. First, the committee pointed out that our involvement with the four countries in the alliance has often been at too low a level to make a difference. Where Ministers should have been deployed, we have instead sent officials, albeit senior ones, to meetings. There seems to be valid criticism that our view of Latin America as a future zone of growth in trade and influence has lacked coherence. I might add that if we consider the multitude of organisations and regional alliances already in Latin America—at least 10 at present—we have a big job on our hands to keep up with each one.
The Government have recently appointed trade envoys and a trade commissioner for Latin America. I wonder whether the resources approved for those roles are sufficient. As the committee pointed out, the work allotted must also be clearly defined. Being part of a large trading organisation can be good for business, but in a post-Brexit world we need also to seek as much bilateral trade as possible with individual countries in the Pacific Alliance, but also in the wider marketplace.
The UK’s influence, when deployed through membership or association with large international organisations, is, of course, always a good thing. We bring many positive features with us, including our advocacy of a rules-based international order and of human rights, and our concern for the environment. In this context, I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, the chair of the committee that produced this report, whose support for, involvement in and stressing of the importance of the Commonwealth over many years should not be understated. The Commonwealth can also increase its links with this part of the world to all our advantages.
It is of course true that the Pacific Alliance countries currently account for only 0.7% of UK exports and 0.6% of UK imports, but that offers a real challenge, and the evidence is that, given strong support from government, those figures could and should be dramatically improved in fast-moving trade opportunities. Chile, Peru and Mexico are now members of the CPTPP; Colombia wishes to join. If the UK is successful in its ambitions to join, that should provide a further stimulus to trade.
The committee’s report is a valuable contribution, and its recommendations must be seriously considered and acted on. The announcement of the CPTPP application is welcome, but like many more of our trade ambitions, it counts for little unless government also put more resources behind it. The Department for International Trade needs to be more proactive at home as well as abroad. Encouraging our exporters to look at Latin America more would be very worth while and pay massive dividends for the UK. We have rightly to look to the future in our pursuit of trading partnerships, but without losing those that have been so much to our advantage in the past and still provide the bulk of our trade.
My Lords, I too welcome this excellent and, ultimately, timely report. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the International Relations Committee for securing the debate, although I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that it has been unduly delayed. We have neglected this part of the world for too long, as many noble Lords have said, and in the post-Brexit world cannot afford to do so any longer.
The committee is right to call for increased UK engagement with the countries of the Pacific Alliance. As its report points out, these countries broadly share our democratic values and aspirations for a rules-based international order and to tackle climate change, although I note the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, regarding Colombia. As the report points out, the alliance has bucked the trade of the increasing populism and protectionist policies seen elsewhere, the latest example being the vaccine nationalism and export controls so disgracefully promoted by the European Commission.
As we have already heard, this is a growing market, representing together the seventh-largest economy in the world. The four Pacific Alliance countries account for 38% of the total GDP of the Caribbean and Latin America, 45% of the region’s foreign direct investment and 50% of the region’s trade. The UK has for too long largely ignored the region politically and economically, with French, Spanish, German and Italian businesses doing much better than British ones, as has been noted. As a body, the EU has committed to deepening its partnership with the alliance, but UK bilateral relations with Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru remain weak. Since last October, when the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, stood down, the UK has not even had a trade envoy to Mexico, as was mentioned earlier.
In their response to the committee’s report, Her Majesty’s Government disputed the lack of a coherent strategy for Latin America. The committee called for a coherent, well thought out approach to Latin America as a whole, and its regional and subregional organisations. If there is one, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is keeping it a closely guarded secret that it did not share with the committee. It remains a mystery how the FCDO, the Department for International Trade, ambassadors, the trade commissioner and trade envoys define and co-ordinate their regional roles. I strongly suspect that, currently, they do not.
Nor is it clear how any strategy towards the Pacific Alliance fits in with the UK’s strategy in working with Mercosur, our opening of negotiations with the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership or a broader Indo-Pacific strategy reflecting our commitment to a revived role east of Suez for our soft and hard power. Post Brexit, global Britain remains a vague aspiration rather than a fleshed-out strategy. I hope the long-delayed integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy will answer some, if not all, of those questions.
Finally, I have one question for the Minister. There have been reports that Latin American countries are severely short of Covid-19 vaccines. As a sign of good will and humanity, will Her Majesty’s Government pledge to make some of our future surplus vaccine supplies available to the countries of the Pacific Alliance and other countries in the region?
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, has withdrawn, so I call Lord Grocott.
My Lords, it is 18 months since our committee published its report. That is before the coronavirus pandemic was even thought of and before our country’s departure from the European Union. So much has changed, but the rationale for the report has not. That is best expressed in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hague, who, when he was Foreign Secretary, said that the UK had
“a track record of underestimating Latin America and neglecting its opportunities”.
Our report focuses on this important challenge, and does so primarily through the prism of the Pacific Alliance. I have time to touch on just two issues: the changes relating to our leaving the European Union and the role of our trade envoys.
First, on our departure from the EU and our capacity to make independent trading arrangements, Ian Perrin, policy forum manager at Canning House, told our committee that leaving the EU
“could act as a spur for the UK to increase engagement with the Pacific Alliance.”
He also said that our trading relations with the region would depend on continuity regarding existing trading arrangements when we exit the EU. Professor Gardini, professor of international relations at Friedrich-Alexander University, told us that if the UK was looking into a
“new trade strategy in a post-Brexit scenario”,
Latin America provided an opportunity
“not only in itself but in terms of UK insertion into regional and global value chains aiming at the Asian market.”
Those are pretty forward-thinking observations in the light of the weekend’s news about the CPTPP.
We now know that Britain has signed continuity trade agreements with all the countries of the Pacific Alliance, which is to be welcomed. Can the Minister update us on any similar arrangements with other countries in the region and tell us what further steps are being taken to maximise the advantages of us being able to make our own independent trading arrangements outside the EU?
I turn to the issue of the Government’s trade envoy programme and the lack of definition about the role of envoys in relation to other parts of the government machinery, which we identified in our report. The International Relations Committee has had a number of unsatisfactory exchanges with the Government about the envoys, including their method of recruitment and appointment, their accountability to the Prime Minister and Parliament, their terms of reference and how their impact is measured and assessed. Those questions were all triggered by the Government’s refusal to allow any of the envoys to appear as witnesses to our committee—an odd refusal since we were inquiring into international trade. The Government clearly attach importance to the trade envoy programme because, on 5 October last year, the Prime Minister announced the appointment of 15 new envoys, doubling the size of the programme, which now covers 69 countries.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Trade wrote to our committee, telling us that this is a “cross-party” programme. There are now 30 envoys, only one of whom is allocated to South America, covering three countries: Chile, Colombia and Peru. As for the cross-party aspect, I make it that, of the 30 envoys, 24 are Conservatives. Can the Minister tell us why some countries in Latin America have envoys but most do not? What is the rationale for selecting Chile, Colombia and Peru ahead of all the others? Does he think that 24 out of 30 envoys being Conservatives can fairly be described as “cross-party”? In addition to the questions that I have asked, will he provide us with an up-to-date list of all the envoys, the countries to which they are attached and their party affiliation?
I conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for securing this debate. He was an excellent chairman of the committee in the first three years of its operation. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, like others, I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Howell for securing this debate. He will find that his committee is not the only one in similar circumstances. Eighteen months ago, I served on the committee dealing with bribery and investigating the Bribery Act; our report is going to come up for debate later this week. While it is a long time delayed, it is nevertheless significant.
Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, to the TTIP and relations with North America. I served on the all-party group. We went on a trip to the United States to meet representatives of various trading organisations representing farmers—pig people, cattle people and grain people—and see how things work in Washington. The noble Lord is right: for anybody who thinks that it is going to be easy, irrespective of the political colour of the President, we must remember that Congress is one of the key decision-makers, and it will decide on the interests of its members. I recall one representative saying that they had X number—I think it was something like 40 Congress people—in their pocket, and there would be no agreement unless they said so. That might have been bombast, but it illustrates that if we put too much hope and emphasis on trying to reach an agreement with the United States to the exclusion of other areas of the world, we will be making a mistake.
I warmly welcome the interest in the Pacific region. We already had contacts there through the Commonwealth; I think that we grossly underplay the importance of that body, given its spread around the world. One thing that we need to look at closely is the attitude of government and Whitehall generally to doing trade around the world. As members of the European Union, I suppose that we became lazy in that we left a lot of this to the European Union to do on our behalf. It is only natural that, with our geographical location, we are always going to have a very significant part to play with our European colleagues; that is quite right. However, Europe as a whole and the EU in particular has been diminishing as a slice of international trade, and growth is very much in the Pacific region. It is important that we pursue that; I congratulate the committee members on their work.
I want to drill down to small business. As the Trade Minister for Northern Ireland, I had the opportunity to lead a number around the world, including in the Asian region. We depended extremely heavily on the local embassies and consulates giving support. I do not believe in giving freebies to companies because we found that if we did that, they did not value them as much, but you can give help, not only financial but also in good back-up in the local embassy or consulate. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can assure us that that is being rolled out right across our diplomatic footprint. It is important to look at all areas, particularly areas of potential growth that are going to be found in this region.
I also believe that the trade envoy movement, to which a number of noble Lords have referred, is a very welcome development and needs to be expanded. We have lots of people who have connections with a professional career, or political or even academic connections, which should also be pursued, because academia can be a parallel area of promotion and building relationships between this and other countries. I have seen that at first hand in Kuala Lumpur and other places where our local university has opened links with those universities—and businesses will follow. In those circumstances, an entirely more outward-looking attitude is required from Whitehall and government generally. It is improving but we must accelerate it.
My Lords, as has already been said, this debate has been a long time coming, but it has been worth the wait and has already allowed changing circumstances and developments to be recognised and taken into account—no doubt we shall hear more about updates when my noble friend comes to wind up. Not the least of these changes has been Brexit. While many of the opportunities highlighted in the report could have been taken up by the United Kingdom as a member of the EU, there is no doubt that people are now looking around more actively for new markets. All the hard work of the DIT, UK Export Finance, the regional trade commissioners—the new one for Latin America is about to take up their post—and trade envoys will, I feel sure, pay off. I declare an interest as a newly appointed trade envoy to Panama—an observer country to the Pacific Alliance—Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. I have over the years visited all the countries of Latin America.
I was not a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee, but I was invited to the round table in May 2019 when the ambassadors of the four Pacific Alliance countries and the director of Canning House were expert witnesses. I remember that they emphasised at the time that the Alianza del Pacífico—or Pacific Alliance—stands for free trade, as opposed to the more protectionist Mercosur, to which Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay belong, and with which we have been negotiating a free trade agreement as part of the European Union team and now, of course, unilaterally. They also stated financial integration as a long-term goal, with integrated stock markets, fintech regulation and private sector and government co-operation being necessary to achieve this—so there are plenty of opportunities for us there.
Another area underlined was the role of education, and I would like to pick up there on the importance not only of teaching English and institutional links but of all the trade possibilities of the edtech sector, which the current Covid pandemic has really highlighted. The committee’s recommendation of the need to maintain and increase the number of Chevening scholarships to Latin America is well made. Returning scholars have been seen to become, and have the potential to become, business and political leaders throughout the region. On a personal level, I add my own good fortune to be awarded a postgraduate fellowship in Ecuador, way back in the 1960s, to make a comparative law study of inter-American with inter-European organisations, which has given me a lifelong commitment to champion more and better links with Latin America.
It is at moments like this that I miss very much my noble friends Lord Montgomery of Alamein and Lord Garel-Jones, both of whom sadly died last year. They were both champions of the need to build on the good will of our historic links with Latin America and to foster more trade. They were also, as I am, former presidents of Canning House.
Time does not allow me to cover all the issues, such as adherence to the democratic process in Latin America, visas, language skills, adequate air connections and even the CPTPP, which are all relevant and have been aired by others. I agree with much of what has been said and, in particular, with the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. I welcome the report and its recommendations. Let us move on, therefore, to contemplate a trade treaty with the Pacific Alliance as a whole.
My Lords, I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, whose good name is synonymous with Latin America. I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in underlining the need to have a quicker turnaround on these reports and parliamentary ratifications. I remind the House of my declarations in the register.
My question until yesterday morning would have been what plans—and over what period—the Government’s has for a strategy beyond the EU, on the UK’s relationship with regional trade blocs, or whether we can now take it that the CPTPP is a trend and a template for the future. While I congratulate the Government for a job well done, there is a concern being expressed by some that our entry will be largely on CPTPP terms.
Some time back, I penned an article on the Pacific Alliance for a business magazine, Capital Finance International, with the strapline, “Going from strength to strength, but can it keep it up?”. My conclusion was that the future is bright, illustrated by core commitments to free trade, integration and democracy as a driving ambition. Investors have recognised multiple growth areas, in addition to the plans for stronger international relations in a 2030 vision. A driving dynamic with four strategic objectives for 2021, with Colombia in the chair, are to create a more integrated, global, connected, entrepreneurial and citizen-orientated alliance, with recognition by the four heads of government that a response to the current situation must focus on economic reactivation by promoting SME linkage, not just within their respective countries but beyond.
I urge UK SMEs to factor in and embrace the concept of local content and source partnership opportunities with like-minded organisations within the bloc, not least as regulatory alignment and procedures are to be simplified to facilitate product flows between Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, and as e-commerce and public procurement opportunities are to be promoted so that companies within the bloc can participate in public tenders. Additionally, the region provides diverse local demand, with diversity as a strength that encourages the establishment of new businesses, especially those that cater to goods and services for neighbouring markets.
While evidence of success is positive, challenges do remain. However, protests in Chile and Colombia, corruption allegations against certain heads and influential Mexican narcotic cartels have not diminished investor confidence. Indeed, Mexico will become a prime beneficiary of further regional integration as Mexican companies will become more competitive in global markets, which in turn would further synchronise standards across Latin America’s largest economies, bringing better-harmonised supply and value chains with them. I would encourage Mexico to assign an ambassador to the UK and would certainly welcome that. It has been a long time in coming.
Individual economies blend well together, combining commodity dependency with Mexico’s huge manufacturing base, core industries of mining, agriculture, manufacturing and tourism, and emerging industries such as financial services. Chile is gradually replacing fossil fuels with solar energy. Peru is investing in new pipelines to pump water into its coastal desert regions, transforming arid land into fertile agricultural areas, and is to be accompanied by ambitious energy projects, major road networks and railway infrastructure. The alliance is also taking full advantage of global trends, not least by exporting a drive in alternative agricultural crops. Finally, looking beyond the Pacific, the alliance is deepening a partnership with the EU through a joint declaration signed in New York.
Time does not permit detailed comment on any future China relationship with the CPTPP, other than to hope that current impasses will not hamper this most welcome association of the UK to a fascinating part of the world, full of opportunity. However, a moment in time might arise when the United Kingdom needs to determine policy to not be in a disruptive fashion, when or if future partners wish to build closer relationships with China. But that is a discussion for another day.
My Lords, the UK has a similar outlook to that professed by the four Pacific Alliance countries in South and central America, and in the four key areas of rules-based international law, the rule of law, democracy and climate change. There is no time for complacency in any of those areas. These countries have not always upheld human rights. They are victims of climate change. International co-operation is vital between these countries and between the bloc and the rest of the world. A highly topical example of this is in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and, in particular, to vaccination and testing. The cuts in the UK aid budget could not have come at a worse time for the UK’s role in ending world poverty during the present decade.
The report of the Select Committee on International Relations and Defence in June 2019 had much good sense on the UK’s relationship with regional organisations in Latin America and the Pacific Alliance, and the significance to the UK of the alliance and its members. This is a region with which the UK must engage and trade freely in its interests. The report began with a quote from the then Foreign Secretary—now the noble Lord, Lord Hague—in 2010. He said that the UK had
“a track record of underestimating Latin America and neglecting its opportunities”.
I have had great opportunities to work with women in Colombia and Mexico and other industries there, and it is really time now for us to work with them. I agree with my colleague that it is time we had an ambassador from Mexico. How true the call is for the UK to think afresh about the Latin alliance. That is what we must do and put into practice. We must adopt a more active and entrepreneurial approach, combined with support for human rights at the same time. I agree with my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Browne, on the question of Colombia.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the report The UK’s Relationship with the Pacific Alliance. It is so timely—it is serendipity—that it has been announced that we are about to join the CPTPP just when this debate is taking place. I would like to focus on that.
As president of the CBI, I can say that our members are very supportive of the UK’s intention to join the CPTPP, to improve access to the fast-growth Asia Pacific region and also the ASEAN trading bloc. UK trade with CPTPP members accounts for £110 billion, which is more than our trade with China. As we have left the European Union, many UK companies are looking to expand their trade focus beyond Europe, to capitalise on emerging opportunities and to diversify risk exposure. Of course, that does not take away from the fact that as things stand, the European Union is our largest trading partner, making up around 45% of our trade. In that sense, while trade with the Asia-Pacific region cannot replace current trade with the UK’s biggest trading partner, the European Union, it does represent a clear and stable focal point for business development across many sectors.
UK accession to the CPTPP would be a clear display of intent that the UK will continue to back the international rules-based trading order. Geopolitically, the CPTPP bloc represents the coming together of countries aligned on the merits of free trade and, while this does not seem to be a commercial issue, many businesses agree that joining the CPTPP could be an important step for the UK to signal that, after leaving the European Union, it remains and intends to continue to remain an open and outward-looking economy.
Of course, we also have the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership—RCEP—which has also been announced. This is another positive development towards free and open global trade, but it also marks a wake-up call. As we spent four and a half years negotiating Brexit with the EU, Asia was continuing on the path to economic integration. Now we have secured a tariff-free, duty-free and quota-free deal with the European Union, we must make sure we are not left behind. In that context, the RCEP was signed on 15 November between 10 ASEAN countries and South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. It is the world’s largest trading bloc, making up a whopping 24% of global GDP.
India dropped out of the negotiations. We must not ignore India, because if you talk to Indian diplomats, they will not talk about Asia-Pacific, they will talk about Indo-Pacific, and it is the Indo-Pacific region that we need to focus on. I congratulate Policy Exchange, which has just produced a report on working towards a new UK strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. It is serendipity, again, that my friend Dean Godson—now the noble Lord, Lord Godson—was introduced today in the House of Lords and I congratulate him.
The CPTPP is an agreement between Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam—making up 13% of global GDP. It means greater market access, promoting private investment, regulatory reform—this is all fantastic news—common standards and very good duty reduction as well. The Policy Exchange report talks about the Indo-Pacific region being resilient and adaptable. It makes some fantastic recommendations: an Indo-Pacific charter; an Indo-Pacific sub-committee; a special envoy for the Indo-Pacific, to promulgate a standalone Indo-Pacific strategy; a prosperity agenda; a security agenda; a strategic reliance initiative; a financial technology platform; a free and open internet initiative; space technology—India is now an emerging space power; and last, but not least, defence and security. It is very important that we move forward, for example, with greater exercises between the UK and Indian armed forces, and greater co-operation. This is a partnership of the future, and I have a huge amount of optimism looking ahead.
My Lords, I have always been an enthusiastic supporter of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, through my many years as UK chairman of Plan International in the 1990s. This charity worked in these countries to build water facilities, buildings for local communities, and homes to live in. It was funded by people sponsoring and supporting a child financially. As chairman, I was able to visit many of these projects and see first-hand the benefit they brought to villagers and communities. I felt very humbled by the generosity and kindness shown to me on those visits. It was evident, even then, that these countries had much to offer the UK in terms of trade.
When I first visited Latin American countries, I had wonderful advice from the late David Montgomery—Viscount Montgomery—who had long-standing business and personal connections in these countries. He was greatly valued by all and he gave me very good advice and connections. I visited one community where those in need of homes had settled in a swamp. All the houses were built with great difficulty, with raised walkways between the houses and steps up to the dwellings to keep them out of the water. This construction was done by the people themselves and it amazed me. With limited road vehicle access, it must have been a huge job for them. They were welcoming, and I was told that many settlements began that way and, only when they had established themselves to a certain level, were they accepted and supported by the national authority. I am pleased to say that that eventually happened to the development to which I refer. They ran a baby clinic each Monday in the front room of one of these houses, and provided efficient standards of medical care for their children. They had plenty of medical supplies but needed trained staff to explain how to use them and what treatment to provide. Some years later, that group of houses had been developed to the point where the national Government had adopted them. They were able to benefit from deliveries on the new dry roadways and full-help status. The authorities told me that that was a typical community development situation.
On another occasion, I went as a member of an IPU delegation to Peru, with the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. We stayed some extra days to enjoy a visit to Machu Picchu, where there are wonders and world-famous unique historic sites to be seen.
My thanks go to the International Relations Committee for its work in its detailed review and Pacific Alliance report. I confess to being stunned to see the report suggest that in 2017 these countries made up only 0.7% of UK exports and 0.6% of UK imports. The phrase in the report that this is “extremely modest” is an understatement, and it would be more accurately described as extremely disappointing. I too look forward to us expanding our trade with the Pacific Alliance, as I think it will be highly beneficial to all countries.
Let us not overlook the future of the travel industry. When we pass the present coronavirus epidemic, there will be a great revival in international travel, and the sites of wonder that exist in the Pacific Alliance countries will be enjoyed again, as they have always been in the past.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond, said in 2010 that they UK had
“a track record of underestimating Latin America and neglecting its opportunities.”
He called for the UK
“to think afresh about Latin America and the opportunities it presents for political cooperation and trade and investment that will benefit all our citizens.”
A number of countries in Latin America share the UK’s approach to free markets, democracy and the rule of law. The UK was party, as an EU member, to free trade agreements with Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Brazil; an agreement with Argentina is in an advanced stage of negotiations.
Enhanced engagement with Latin America will be a necessary part of the Government’s global Britain strategy. It will act as an invisible chain linking the world’s democracies. Through the Pacific Alliance, established in 2011 by Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, the UK could strengthen its existing relationship with these four countries in the region.
The four countries of the Pacific Alliance account for $1.1 trillion in trade—a figure that has increased by an average of 6.7% annually for the past decade. David Gallagher, the ambassador of Chile to the UK, said that the Pacific Alliance was therefore “a very big market” for external partners. As the report states, Ambassador Gamarra said that
“the members of the Pacific Alliance shared a ‘strong projection to the Asia-Pacific region’”.
The UK Government has expressed an interest in joining this alliance after Brexit. Now that we are out of the EU, the strategy of expanding our relationship with Pacific partners, including in Latin America, must be the right thing to do.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the committee for this excellent report, which shines a spotlight on the relationship between the UK and the Pacific Alliance. If I may, I want to look at that relationship in the context of the current global pandemic, which has made the whole agenda of water, sanitation and hygiene—an issue of considerable concern to the countries of the Pacific Alliance—that much more important. It presents a real opportunity to strengthen and deepen the relationship between the UK and the Pacific Alliance.
My questions for the Minister arise, therefore, from the SDGs, including our commitments in that regard and the extent to which we are working with the Pacific Alliance to promote them—particularly SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation, which is linked to SDG 5 on gender equality, which was a focus of the International Relations Committee’s report. Access to clean water and safe sanitation contributes to gender equality through its impact on women’s dignity, health and access to education and opportunities for economic empowerment.
SDG 6 will be met only if there is concerted investment in and, importantly, real focus on the part of finance Ministers and health, water and sanitation Ministers on this issue. The UK has been doing some excellent work in this regard through Sanitation and Water for All, an international alliance of those concerned to promote SDG 6. My first question is this: can the Minister assure us that SDG 6 and the FCDO’s focus on it will not be weakened as a result of the cuts that have occurred in government spending on ODA?
Secondly, can he tell us what assessment the Government have made of recent progress toward the SDGs, particularly SDG 6, in terms of the Pacific Alliance countries? What more can we do with them to take forward our work in this area? I ask that not least because, in December last year, Asian and Pacific finance Ministers met to address this very issue, which is, for understandable reasons, of particular concern to the countries of the Pacific Alliance. They have seen a rapid increase in urban populations and the need for sustainable city responses to the water, sanitation and hygiene agenda in that context, and face very real problems in relation to the pandemic. Here, I ask the Minister to give us a sense of how we are working with Mexico—a fellow G20 member—to address and take forward the commitment made in the 2020 communiqué by G20 finance Ministers to redouble efforts and support for low-income countries. Mexico stands as one of the few Latin American members of the G20. How will it work with other members of the Pacific Alliance and with us to take the SDGs forward?
I say something in support of the committee’s recommendations on achieving scholarships. My experience as a Minister and, more significantly, as Head of Mission when I was High Commissioner to South Africa, taught me that, over the years, few UK Government programmes have been more beneficial—in terms of deepening and strengthening the personal relationships that underpin national relationships—than the Chevening scholarships. Chevening alumni can always be relied on as good friends of the United Kingdom, so we ought in fact to be investing more in such scholarships. I hope that the Minister can tell us that we intend to do so in taking forward our relationship as a country with the Pacific Alliance.
Also, I would argue that we ought to focus to a greater degree on using the Chevening scholarships as a way of promoting the SDGs. Water, sanitation and hygiene rely, if you are going to have sustainable responses to the challenge that they present, on research and development. The cause relies on a relationship between the private sector, academia, governments and regulators if we are to advance it. We can use Chevening scholarships in that regard. Importantly, hopefully the Minister will be able to tell us not only that we are going to invest more in those scholarships but that his new department will utilise higher education more in terms of UK foreign and development policy. Many members of your Lordships’ House are, like me, chancellors of universities. We know what the university sector can offer in this regard. If only we had a little more support from central government and the departments—that is, a cross-departmental initiative from central government, not least utilising ODA.
Finally, can the Minister tell us how he intends to spread the word about the value of UK higher education across the Pacific Alliance, whose member states are looking to develop their higher education capacity and advance their knowledge economies? We can assist in that regard.
There is much to do. This important report makes a real contribution to strengthening and deepening the relationship. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a positive response to the questions that he has been asked in the course of this debate.
Lord Boateng, I did not interrupt but I think I should point out that you were two minutes over the time limit.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the committee for the report. Let me say how pleased I am to see that the committee has turned its attention to these countries in Latin America. I broadly agree with its recommendations, notably that the UK
“should deepen its engagement with the Pacific Alliance”.
Turning to the Commonwealth, which I know is dear to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, the reports notes that Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore have applied for associate status to the alliance. What conversations have Her Majesty’s Government had with these like-minded states and fellow Commonwealth members as to their aims in seeking this status? Will the UK consider joining them in the longer term?
I will also refer to the UK export strategy. My concern is less to do with languages, which the report emphasises, as the US and Canada are more geographically proximate to that continent. I suspect that their institutions, as well as language centres, will be the more natural home for learning English than the United Kingdom. However, taking paragraph 65, I agree that our share of trade is extremely modest. I notice that the committee took evidence from the City of London Corporation, but that body, important though it is, does not speak to the regulatory and supervisory aspects of the UK’s skills and know-how in these areas. I emphasise this as a really important aspect of our influence in emerging markets.
The report emphasises innovation and research, and in this context I am informed by two pieces of work. I, along with a few other noble Lords, have been serving on the Economic Diplomacy Commission of the London School of Economics, the report of which is due out shortly. That report, and the evidence we took, say that services should be front and centre of the UK’s export strategy. Professional services are a hugely significant part of that, given that it is a global industry where regulations work upstream at global level and that most advanced and emerging market economies apply rules negotiated through the Financial Stability Board, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and so on. We in the United Kingdom are not only significant players at those levels—after all, the City of London is ranked number two globally among financial centres—but leaders in fintech and other innovative products. We thus have capacity and knowledge in the regulation of new innovations, where we might usefully share our expertise. I hope that the Department for International Trade will be able to promote that aspect of our professional services.
Another omission in the committee’s report, for me, stems from another piece of work that I have done recently and which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and other Members have mentioned. I served on Policy Exchange’s commission on a strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, chaired by the right honourable Stephen Harper, the former Prime Minister of Canada. As an aside, I am delighted to join other noble Lords in congratulating the director of Policy Exchange on his introduction to the House today as the noble Lord, Lord Godson. It has been a pleasure to work with him over the years. The emphasis of that report, A Very British Tilt, is the role of the UK in reinforcing a sustainable rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. For us, this should take a twin-track engagement approach.
First, we advocate a prosperity agenda focused on trade economics and technology issues, the latter including intellectual property, digital standards, science co-operation, sustainable development and environmental protection. Secondly, our report advocates a security agenda, seeking to reinforce regional security and the resilience of domestic socioeconomic political institutions in the Indo-Pacific countries, which may be open to our expertise. The report we are discussing today notes that Pacific Alliance countries, along with the UK, seek to pursue membership of the CPTPP. Apart from the obvious geographical difference—whereas the committee looked at the countries of the eastern Pacific, we looked at the western Pacific—there is much commonality, which I hope the FCDO can usefully incorporate from both. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, the Victorian commentator on the constitution, Walter Bagehot, said in 1867 that the committees of the House of Lords, as is well known, do a great deal of work and do it very well. I think we would all agree that this is still true, over 150 years later. However, I wondered whether it was true that there might have been a quicker response in Bagehot’s day from the Government, and the House authorities as a whole, to acting on the reports of committees. I share very much the frustrations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Not having been a member of the International Relations Committee, I was most surprised to see that its report had come out in June 2019. I was also amazed that the Government’s response took over a year. Why was this? The report is not long. It covers policy areas where the Government already had a stated policy approach. I cannot understand at all why, even in challenging circumstances, such a huge delay came about. We have to think about much tighter time limits for responses from the Government and the House authorities in finding time to debate committees’ reports.
Serendipitously, however, the report has coincided with the Government’s approach to the CPTPP, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out. There is therefore a timeliness to this debate, but by accident rather than design. I very much welcome that approach by the Government and wish them success in that venture, although some of the coverage in the newspapers yesterday struck me as ridiculously overhyped or jingoistic. It was the Express which said
“Boris Toasts Another Big Brexit Bonus … As the EU tears itself apart, Global Britain powers on”.
In fact, as we know, in most cases we are talking about continuity arrangements with these countries. The coverage also somehow perpetuated the myth that we were unable to trade with these countries while in the EU. Yet if we look at the export figures from Germany to the countries concerned, for example, we can see that they are very considerable. Germany has at least 10 times the surplus of trade that we have with them. We need to have a sense of reality when we look at these issues.
The report was very good, but I would like to follow up on one question, which I think my noble friend Lord Hain asked earlier, about the consequences of recent government cuts to aid and changes in aid policy. Have the Government assessed what the effect of recent changes will be on the countries that this report covers? I also endorse strongly the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, whose work in this area has been really interesting and impressive, while I will be interested in the response to the questions raised by my noble friend Lord Grocott on trade envoys.
Finally, I will refer briefly to Colombia. A few years ago I went to Colombia for the first time. I was rather wary of going, because of its reputation for drugs and criminality, but was bowled over by the country’s potential and particularly by its wonderful flora and fauna. I therefore ask the Government: what is happening with their partnership for sustainable growth, which they signed with Colombia last year? Will they follow up with the City of London Corporation on the evidence that it gave to the committee about the importance of green finance? Also, what progress has been made on the mutual recognition of degrees and on co-operation with Colombia in tackling crime and supporting the rule of law and judicial independence?
My Lords, the next speaker on the list, the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, has withdrawn, so we come to the Front-Bench speakers. I call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.
My Lords, it was a pleasure to serve on the committee so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. When introducing the debate this afternoon, which has been so well attended, he gave an indication of the work of other members of the committee. It was a pleasure serving alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, and the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Grocott. I too pay tribute, as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, just did, to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. In many respects, it was because of her persistence and insistence that we took on looking at an area which a parliamentary committee report had not considered: our relationship with the Pacific Alliance. Her eloquent contribution to this debate, which I will touch on in a moment, is also testimony to her work on the committee.
There has rightly been reference to the delay in our debating this report; indeed, there is somewhat of a backlog on the reports of what is now our International Relations and Defence Committee. Now that I am no longer on the committee, after serving on it for three years, I look forward to our debating—soon, I hope—sub-Saharan Africa and some of our other reports. I know that the Minister will want us to debate them because the Government respond substantially to our recommendations.
Next year will be the 10th year of the Pacific Alliance, which we viewed in three ways. One was our long historical relationship and whether we are utilising that well—as the noble Lord, Lord Hague, indicated to us, and as other noble Lords referred to. The second was the potential of a closer relationship to build on trading and cultural relations, and the third how the UK can interact with a consensus and co-operation alliance, such as the Pacific Alliance. In this last regard, we noted that while we had observer status Canada, and now others—Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, which are, interestingly, Commonwealth countries, as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, said—are seeking and will develop closer ties still with associate membership. What does the UK intend regarding our ambition for associate membership?
Returning first to our historical depth, this is an area little recognised across the UK but important in global relations. I had the pleasure of visiting Peru as part of an IPU delegation in 2017. As proof of the UK’s historical links, the very British Airways plane on which we landed was being prepared and turned around to return the Princess Royal from her third visit to Peru. As part of that, she visited the International Potato Center, which has close connections with Scotland’s significant seed potato industry—so harmed recently by the TCA with the EU. We cannot compete with the more than 3,000 types of potato that Peru has; it is one area where, unfortunately, Peru may have a competitive advantage in trade with the European Union over what we now have as a result of the TCA.
Also during her visit, the Princess Royal unveiled a statue of Martin Guise, born in Gloucestershire, a veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar and then commander of the Peruvian fleet. My noble friend Lord Wallace referred to Lord Cochrane, a remarkable and equally colourful character, from Lanarkshire, who was significant in the Peruvian and the Chilean navies. In 2018, the Princess Royal visited Chile during the bicentennial of its navy to unveil a statue of him, too. It is worth telling the Committee what the chief admiral of its navy said at the unveiling of the statue. Significantly, Admiral Leiva said:
“when we are celebrating the Bicentennial of the Navy, we render a deserved and necessary recognition to the figure of Admiral Cochrane. It is not enough that one of our most important ships bears his name. Today it becomes necessary for all citizens to know and appreciate the scope they had in the process of consolidating our republic and the formation of our naval power, which is so relevant today for our country”
and its development. I hope the Minister will respond to my noble friend Lord Wallace’s question on the strategic links in today’s defence environment.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, said, we have current areas of interest and opportunity. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, we had a round table with all the ambassadors—the first time, I think, that they came together as a group for a Lords committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, also referred to that and I pay tribute, as have others, to her work within the region. She was on the IPU visit that I attended. We did not have royalty on our visit, but by having her join us in the region we had the next best thing.
Because the Pacific Alliance is a consensus and co-operation alliance, as I said, our discussions with the ambassadors looked at ways of joint working to address the deep-seated challenges of the region: on the economy, transport links, cross-border crime and astonishingly high levels of displaced people—increasingly so, with the Venezuelan crisis—and peacebuilding, as referred to by my noble friend Lord Alderdice and others today. The scope for the UK to offer technical assistance through UK business, as well as government relations, is significant. Although the total sum of trade is limited compared to our near neighbours in the European trading environment, I support moves towards an economic partnership agreement with the wider alliance, building on the bilateral relationship that we have with the rollover agreements, on the EU-Mercosur agreement and on the CPTPP.
However, we have barriers to trading with the region, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, and others said—she mentioned her work on visas, in particular. The UK has an insulting position on visas for Colombia and, in particular, Peru. She and I welcomed a senior Peruvian MP to Westminster, who told us of the great difficulties he had had in securing a visa for the United Kingdom to visit its Parliament. If we are to have deepening and further trading relationships, visa-free access for business travel should be obvious. I hope the Minister can finally indicate how the Government will move on this area. I should be grateful if he can also say how our transport links might improve. The only direct air link from the UK to Peru flew between April and October. on a dedicated Boeing 747 from Gatwick. As the planes have been decommissioned and BA closes flights from Gatwick, how will our national flag carrier represent us on that route? As all noble Lords have said in the debate, if we are to benefit from this relationship when out of the Covid crisis, we need these global air links to be significant. At the moment, there are significant question marks over them.
Our report recommended trade facilitation and language skills. I regret, as others have indicated, the declines in those areas. In going forward on trade, which has remained broadly stable over the past decade—with the exception of growth in exports to Mexico—we may have the rolled-over agreements, but the EU recently modernised its Mexico agreement and the Chile agreement is being renegotiated. We need to move fast, as our trading arrangements are already out of date, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, said the press promotion of the application for CPTPP seems to be of greater importance to the Government. It is of greater importance that we make sure that the agreements we have are updated and facilitated, rather than applying for new and, in many ways, weaker agreements.
Finally, I return to the extraordinarily long time it has taken to debate this report, as referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others. It is perhaps somewhat telling that the central theme we sought to address in it—that the Pacific Alliance should move to the front of our minds—has taken 18 months to be debated within the House. This may give us an opportunity, however, to do some post-scrutiny review. Have the Government met the indications they gave us in their response to our report? We bemoaned the fact that there had been few ministerial visits and that, as has been referred to, officials attended PA summits. How many ministerial visits have there been, is there a growth trend in them and will the Government commit to Ministers attending Pacific Alliance summits, rather than officials? Given that next year is the 10th anniversary, a good way to mark it would be for the UK to seek associate membership. If the Minister for reassuring replies can reassure me on this point, I will be most obliged.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his introduction to the debate and report. I also thank him for his excellent past service as chair of the committee. As he said, there is great potential for the Government to strengthen our engagement with the bloc, but there are also many challenges, as many of the challenges that they face, we face. These are shared particularly by Colombia, Chile and Peru.
Our foreign policy must always be shaped by our values and human rights must be central to our relationship with the region. The report rightly observes the potential for deepening trade ties with Latin America, specifically with the Pacific Alliance bloc. The UK’s role in international trade has obviously changed enormously since the committee published its report in June 2019—not least, as we have heard, with the announcement at the weekend that the Government are formally applying to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. As with other trade agreements, the advantages of joining the CPTPP will have to be assessed once we see the terms on offer. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said about linking with like-minded countries in that alliance, particularly those in the Commonwealth. That is positive but, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said, there is the issue of China and its proposed accession to the partnership. I have not heard anything from the Trade Secretary about whether we will have the right to veto China’s proposed accession if we join the bloc first.
Many of the report’s observations are as true today as they were when the UK was still negotiating the withdrawal agreement with the EU, specifically on the
“paucity of commercial activity with a vibrant part of the globe, where the potential is so great.”
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, and other noble Lords referred to the report’s itemisation of the level of UK exports and imports with that region. I hope the Minister can tell us the up-to-date figures, and whether the trend is going in the right direction.
As noble Lords have said, the UK has ratified rollover trade agreements with Chile, Colombia and Peru. We were partner to agreements with each of those countries while a member of the EU, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, reminded us. However, the UK is no longer part of an agreement with the largest economy of the Pacific Alliance, Mexico. The Government have previously stated that an agreement with Mexico would enter into effect early in 2021. Can the Minister update us on its current status and exactly when it will apply?
Of course, the UK’s relationship with Latin America extends far beyond trade. We share close cultural and historical ties with the region. My noble friend Lord Boateng and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, raised the benefits of the Chevening scholarships. I hope that the Minister will confirm the Government’s future plans for the operation of that scheme with each of the four nations of the alliance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and other noble Lords also asked about the UK’s future plans as an official observer of the alliance. I hope the Minister will elaborate more on exactly what those are.
Above all, I stress that we must recognise that the same issues that pose the greatest challenge to the UK in the years ahead are linked to the alliance: the climate crisis; Covid, its aftermath and how we build back; and misinformation, cybersecurity and the future of data. These are all issues for the Pacific Alliance as much as they are for the United Kingdom. I very much welcome my noble friend Lord Boateng’s emphasis on the SDGs and the 2030 agenda. The UK has great opportunities to build alliances and bridges in each of these areas, including as president of COP 26 and the UN Security Council.
Our relationship with the Pacific Alliance must be strengthened beyond 2021 and become a permanent fixture of British foreign policy, built on a set of values. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, quite rightly referred to the long-awaited results of the integrated review. Our relationship is very much co-ordinated and linked with the three Ds: diplomacy, defence and development. Many noble Lords raised the impact of the cuts to ODA, which will clearly greatly impact on our ability to have that integrated approach, particularly to South America.
One specific human rights issue that my noble friend Lady Blower raised was about Colombia. As penholder for Colombia at the UN, the UK has a very specific responsibility to ensure that the Colombian Government uphold the 2016 peace agreement. Regrettably, there has been clear evidence of surveillance and targeting of trade unionists, environmental activists and rights activists by paramilitaries in the country—a violation of the peace agreement, which must be directly tackled by the Colombian Government. Of course, 2020 was the most violent year since the peace agreement was signed in 2016, with the police and the armed forces being linked to indiscriminate violence against rights activists, as confirmed by Colombia’s Supreme Court.
As my noble friend Lady Blower said, we had a debate on this issue on 7 December. The Minister responded on the contact we had with the Colombian Government with our support for and training of security forces in Colombia. I hope he will take the opportunity to update us on where we are on ensuring that our concerns are properly recognised by the Colombian Government.
On Chile, the Minister will be aware of concerns by Human Rights Watch relating to the treatment of protestors and other activists. In early 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Chile to observe the situation and recommended measures to end the excessive use of force and promote access to justice.
The UN Secretary-General was right to raise attacks on journalists in Mexico, in particular the recent killing of Julio Valdivia Rodríguez, who reported on violent crime. We must unequivocally stand for the free press. In recent years, many resolutions have passed through the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council on the safety of journalists. The Minister’s department has raised the question of the global response to freedom of the press. Can the Minister confirm what recent steps the Government have taken to promote the rights of journalists working in Mexico, including through our work at the UN?
On Peru, the investigation by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights into recent events in Lima found that unnecessary and excessive force was used during protests. I hope the Minister can tell us what the department has been able to do since President Vizcarra left office in late 2020.
I very much look forward to hearing how the Government intend to strengthen relationships with the Pacific Alliance. The debate on this report, although delayed, is timely because of the response we have had since Brexit to build new agreements. I hope the Minister will agree—we will have the opportunity to address this tomorrow—that whatever our future relationship will be, it must be built on the firm foundation of human rights.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend, Lord Howell, for tabling this important debate on the Pacific Alliance, and the International Relations Committee on its excellent report on this subject. I join others in paying tribute to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, raised the delay between the publication of the report and the debate today. I followed up on this specifically, in preparation. The government response was not delayed; it was issued on 2 September 2019. Where the challenge has been is in the tabling of the debate, and I shall take that point back to see how we can make a much more effective response in terms of the timing of a debate on a report that has been produced. I think we all accept that last year was an incredibly different one for all of us, not least for the parliamentary authorities. Nevertheless, there is always the point that we can do better—and certainly I take the point on other debates. I shall reflect on that and ensure that we can do this in a more efficient manner. Of course, I look forward to discussions through the usual channels on tabling these debates in a timely fashion.
As the Minister for reassurance—it can be added to my portfolio after today’s debate—I reassure noble Lords that, as I go through my comments, I shall be able to provide some detail behind some of the strengthening of our relationships with these important countries. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and others have said—my noble friend Lord Kirkhope also alluded to this—this is part of our broader global Britain strategy. Indeed, as we look towards the Pacific, one major area of my focus as the Minister responsible for south Asia has been on our Indo-Pacific strategy across all areas, many of which noble Lords have touched on. Those include issues of security, including maritime security, which was an area that was focused on, to ensure that we regard the Pacific as an important partner as we build global Britain’s strength. We will continue to work with partners across the Pacific in strengthening this. Indeed, our wider alliances include our application for dialogue status in ASEAN, the fact that we now have a post in Jakarta and an ambassador specifically to ASEAN underlining the important broader focus that the United Kingdom Government attach to our relationships in that region.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I think we have all recognised the challenge but also the opportunity presented with the new trade agreement with our partners within the European Union. We will continue to work closely with our friends and partners in the European region, with a broad set of priorities, in the context of some of the areas of trade that we have talked about as well as broader issues of security and human rights. That will continue, and it should not be perceived as a detriment in any way that there is an opportunity to strengthen relationships elsewhere.
When the committee wrote this report 18 months ago, as many noble Lords have reflected, nobody had an idea of how our world would be turned upside-down by the pandemic. It is shocking to think that it is almost a year since we went into that first lockdown, and how the world has changed. Thanks to the incredible efforts of our scientific community, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel—but for now we continue to suffer devastating loss of life and severe economic impacts, both here in the UK and, indeed, across Latin America.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in his excellent summing up, talked about the importance of the security narrative, strengthening our partnerships with countries across Latin American and the Pacific. I stand by that; when we look at the issues of the pandemic, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, we went into this together—and the way to come out of it is by working collaboratively together. In that regard, the ravages of the pandemic have only strengthened the need for co-operation with our friends and partners. The only way in which to defeat this virus and be ready for future pandemics is by working together with transparency and good will.
In this regard, my noble friend Lady Anelay talked about the Prime Minister and the new appointment of my noble friend Lord Frost. She asked an obvious question about strengthened co-operation, and I think it bodes well for the strengthened focus on international relationships and trade partnerships in post-Brexit Britain that the Prime Minister has appointed my noble friend to this role. As the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, said, it is about the importance of each tenet of diplomacy, defence and development in our approach to global Britain.
So what are we doing? In recent months, just on the Covid pandemic—to reassure the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Boateng, and the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie—my honourable friend Minister Morton has co-hosted a series of seminars on equitable access to the vaccine with countries including Mexico and Chile, both members of the Pacific Alliance, as well as Argentina. Notwithstanding challenges domestically, the United Kingdom has committed £548 million to the COVAX facility. We continue to stress the importance of all countries signing up to that important instrument. These events brought together country experts and Ministers with a multilateral health system, as well as development banks. That illustrates how we are working to tackle the sheer threat as partners.
I also assure the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, that the important issues that he raised, particularly on SDG 5, continue to be a primary focus for the FCDO. I shall talk about Colombia in a moment, and he will see the important work that we have done in that respect. In the Government’s response to the committee’s report, we agreed that Latin America is an increasingly important partner for the UK’s global ambitions. It is one of the most naturally aligned regions in terms of UK values. As my noble friend Lord Howell said, we continue to work, and should strengthen our work, within those regions and should leverage the opportunity presented by our current role as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth. I shall explore how we can do that further, as the current Minister of State for the Commonwealth.
I reassure the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, as well as other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who talked about high-level contact: they may recall that the first visit that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made after his appointment on 8 August 2019 was to Mexico. There were challenges for Foreign Ministers during 2020; we have perhaps not been travelling in the way we did. However, I am sure that normal service will be restored in good time, and we will have further debates in this regard. Our commitment to the region has not changed.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly raised the important issue of climate change. Nowhere do we see that commitment more than in our shared efforts to combat climate change. Latin America is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, and many countries in Latin America are among those most determined to do what they can to make a difference. Our Pacific Alliance friends are the most ambitious in that regard. Specifically, we are presidents of COP 26, but it was Chile that had the presidency of COP 25, and we are working closely with Chile on co-operation and international discussions.
I turn to our relationship with the Pacific Alliance. As several noble Lords said, our status within the alliance is as an observer state, and we are in good company; 59 countries in total have that status. As noble Lords would expect, as such close partners we are one of the most active and share a joint programme of work across many priorities. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, asked about associate membership. What I can share is that our primary focus on our international arrangements in that part of the world will be initially on the CPTPP. By the way, I was rehearsing that with my nine year-old to see who could say it faster five times over without tripping over it, and I fear that he beat me by a few seconds. However, we will get used to it.
The important thing is that the announcement made by my right honourable friend the Trade Secretary underlines our commitment to the region. In spite of the pandemic and the obvious constraints that it has caused, we had a fruitful relationship with the Chilean presidency, which handed over to Colombia in December. Since the committee published its report, our co-operation with the Pacific Alliance as a group has focused on both finance and education—points well made by several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, in their summing up.
I will give a few other examples. Noble Lords mentioned the importance of fintech. We have worked together in that respect on the development of the environment and regulatory best practices across the alliance, which is crucial for financial inclusion. In the area of education, we launched the English network of the Pacific Alliance with the British Council. I hope that that reassures the noble Lords, Lord McNally, Lord Hain and Lord Purvis—in my capacity as Minister for reassurance—about our continued commitment to the importance of the English language and soft power as we work with countries in the Pacific Alliance on improving English language skills and creating more opportunities. Indeed, I believe that in Peru the British Council reopened in 2015.
Trade was, rightly, a key area of focus. Trade has also continued to flourish. It is an area of huge potential for British business. As we have already heard, Latin America and the Caribbean have a combined GDP of over $5 trillion and their population is 650 million people. Of course, this growth comes with the 21st-century challenges of climate change, delivering inclusive and sustainable development, and building back better from the pandemic. We are supporting British businesses to become partners of choice in the region.
We were reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, of the importance of fintech and the broader service sector. Between 2010 and 2019, total trade in goods and services between the UK and Latin America and the Caribbean increased by 17%. In the year to quarter 2 of 2020, it was worth nearly £30 billion. While Covid-19 has undoubtedly affected recent performance, total trade in goods and services between the UK and the Pacific Alliance countries was worth just shy of £10 billion in 2019. In under two years, the UK has secured trade continuity deals with Mexico, Chile, and the Andean countries Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru worth more than £10 billion of trade in 2019. Agreements have also been signed with other countries in the wider region, including South Korea. Currently, we are in discussion on FTAs with New Zealand and Australia.
In addition, the UK is working with Pacific Alliance partners to implement these agreements and has committed to start negotiating a new and ambitious free trade agreement with Mexico later this year. I will again address the point raised by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes: we are ensuring that all sectors are included in this and we recognise the value of the tourism sector, which her contribution demonstrated.
In addition to these continuity agreements, and to further support our bilateral relationships, we have established a series of dialogues with regional partners to boost the trade environment. The inaugural UK-Colombia trade dialogue took place in July 2020, where Ministers agreed to ensure that free and fair trade supports a green and resilient recovery. At the inaugural Anglo-Chilean trade dialogue in October 2020, Ministers also reaffirmed their ambition to increase trade in important sectors such as infrastructure, financial services and life sciences. Other vital work is being done, for example on the issue of double taxation agreements between the UK and Colombia. I am sure my noble friend Lady Hooper, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Falkner and Lady Quin, will be reassured by the importance we continue to attach to fintech. We also believe that the double taxation agreement provides a good basis to allow for greater legal certainty for the UK’s brilliant financial services sector.
The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and my noble friend Lord Empey, among others, raised the important issue of trade envoys. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, also talked of co-ordination in this sector. In the interests of time, I will respond later to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, with a full list of trade commissioners currently working across the world. As we have already heard, we have appointed trade envoys to some of the countries in this particular region. My noble friend Lady Hooper is doing a sterling job with her responsibilities.
On co-ordination, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, that Her Majesty’s trade commissioners co-operate very closely with Her Majesty’s ambassadors and high commissioners in each country. Indeed, we work very closely across government, at Westminster and in post, to ensure that level of co-ordination and strategic approach. Many will know about Jonathan Knott, who is the new trade commissioner for Latin America, and the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, including my honourable friend Mark Menzies, who covers certain countries in that region. Although it is the Prime Minister’s call, we are looking towards Mexico in the near future in this respect as well.
Mexico, Peru and Chile also form part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. I say to my noble friend Lord Trenchard, who said that he was going to withdraw from this debate, that when I first heard the acronym CPTPP it was during a Question a couple of years back, I believe, on this very issue. I was very grateful for him for introducing that, and in time I am sure we will all get used to the acronym and be as efficient as my nine year-old in pronouncing it.
Nevertheless, the UK’s accession to the CPTPP is a priority for the Government this year. I feel the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, stole my thunder somewhat, but I am pleased to say that today we are submitting our notification of intent to begin the accession process. I hope this also provides the focus requested by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on the importance of cementing our relationship with the region, which has an increasingly influential trade network of 11 dynamic economies in the Indo-Pacific and Americas region that already account for 13% of global GDP and will rise to 16% with our accession.
I would like to spend the few moments that I have left outlining the importance of our broader relationships with the four countries within the Pacific Alliance. First of all, to assure the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others, we are working very closely with the Pacific Alliance countries on issues of climate and COP 26. I would argue that our continuity trade agreements are not a standstill moment but rather add the basis of continuing our strong trade agreements to look to see how we can strengthen our relationships further. It was our work on climate which has, for example, allowed various countries to make quite ambitious commitments on NDCs, and that is something to be celebrated.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Blower and Lady Goudie, and the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Collins, among others, talked of Colombia. We have collaborated closely with Colombia for more than 30 years on issues of security and anti-narcotics work. In recent years, our relationship has broadened significantly. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, will be pleased to know that we work very closely on issues of women’s empowerment. As with other Pacific Alliance countries, Colombia shares the UK’s ambition when it comes to tackling climate change and deforestation and is a close regional partner. Ahead of COP 26, Colombia has already announced a very ambitious NDC of 51%.
We have also worked very closely with the Colombian Government to help implement the 2016 peace agreement and to improve and protect human rights, as the lead country on the subject at the UN Security Council. Challenges remain, but no one can doubt the vast progress that has been made. I wish to put on record my sincere thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for her continued work with Colombia, and for her valuable insights in helping me plan for my virtual visit to Colombia. It was a positive and collegiate experience, and I was able to appreciate the depth of our relationship.
Chile is another remarkable country: a consolidated democracy which champions free trade. Chile was the first country to conclude a trading agreement with the UK as we prepared to leave the EU. As with Chile, we have also worked closely with Mexico on access to vaccines and across various areas, including various SDGs. I hope the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, will take note of the important role we attach to Mexico. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned our relationship specifically on issues of press freedom. Indeed, I have already reached out on that very issue, when it was announced that Mexico would become a member of the UN Security Council.
Finally, Peru is another likeminded partner working across the full range of UK trade, climate and values priorities. The breadth of our relationship sees the UK providing equipment and mobile hospitals to help the Peruvian healthcare sector. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, talked about the importance of transport links in this respect. I have a sister-in-law who is originally Peruvian, grew up in Peru and works in the airline sector, so I assure the noble Lord that the lobbying in that respect is very clear within the Ahmad household. I assure him in my final few moments that human rights remain high up my focus as Human Rights Minister, and I say to the noble Lords, Lord Hain, Lord Browne and Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, that these will remain a focus. Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that the point he made on indigenous people is well read, and I will certainly reflect on that. I assure my noble friend Lady Anelay that the Ruggie principles remain focused in our mind.
As a final point, on the issue of visas, I ought to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and others, that I have of course noted the points which have been made. The Government are engaging with a wide group to hear the priorities, concerns and ideas about how future border and immigration systems can work.
I am really grateful to all noble Lords for the debate that has taken place but particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for tabling the Motion. Important issues looking to the future, including the issue of Chevening scholars, are well made. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, and others that we remain very much committed to the next generation and continue to invest in Chevening scholarships, which I believe have tripled from that part of the world in recent years.
Looking to the future, we will continue to work with countries across the Pacific Alliance in areas of shared interest. Much will depend on what we want to achieve and where our priorities lie, but what is certain is that the four countries of the Pacific Alliance both around and beyond the Pacific Alliance will remain important friends, and we look forward to strengthening partnerships with all those countries as part of global Britain.
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this debate and thank the Minister for his comments and reassurances, as well as for all the kind words about the work of the International Relations Committee. I always feel that these debates are a bit like opening the door to a treasure trove of vast experience and wisdom about all parts of the world, including the one that we are discussing. In a way, your Lordships’ House has become the last bastion of collective memory about how things have developed and what has gone on in the past—one of the threads binding our society together, which we break at our peril.
Here we have been talking about “partnerships for the future”, in the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I hope that with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, my brilliant successor in the committee, these messages get through to the integrated review, which I gather is brewing up for publication in March. I shall recognise it when I see it, but I hope that those messages get through.
The main focus has been on the application to join the CPTPP. That is obviously the excitement of the moment, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, wisely reminded us, all trade agreements place restrictions and restraints on how we proceed and what we can do domestically and internationally. No responsible great trading nation like ours can do exactly what it wants; the world is not like that in an interdependent age.
Having put those remarks at the end of our excellent debate, it remains for me simply to move the Motion on the Order Paper.
Committee adjourned at 5.12 pm.